UT student battling depression ‘traumatized’ after campus response

Bradley has a semicolon tattoo, which represents mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention
Bradley has a semicolon tattoo, which represents mental health struggles and the importance of suicide prevention

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In her dorm room, Carlee Bradley prepares for a busy three days at Zilker Park.

“Radiohead, Major Lazer, Kendrick Lamar, Chainsmokers,” she says out loud, reading the Austin City Limits lineup. “Yes, I am very passionate about music.”

But no song or stage will mend a wound opened last week.

“I have nightmares every night about it, I don’t get much sleep anymore because I’m like up all night,” says Bradley.

The UT Austin freshman lives with depression and anxiety, and in recent weeks, has been feeling more down than usual. Bradley confided in her friend about the depression, who in turn went to university police because she was worried. Shortly after, officers showed up to her dorm to make sure she was okay.

“I was okay, just a little depressed, but I was okay until then. Because… I’m scared of police officers, because they have guns and guns like, scare me.”

The officers gave her the mental health crisis line phone number, saying to give them a call if she needed to talk. Bradley decided to call and had a long conversation with a counselor. At the time, she didn’t realize she could remain anonymous, and wishes she had known that was an option.

“Every time I said something, I always said, ‘With no intent, with no intent.’ So it was very clear I was not going to harm myself.”

Bradley says the counselor urged her to make an appointment with the counseling center. She says she was told if she did not make an appointment, they would have to send police, which is what happened.

“They were in here for like 30 minutes and then went outside to collaborate, and came back in and said, ‘Stand up,’ and asked me to turn around. They held me over that bed… and handcuffed me,” explains Bradley. “They walked me down in to what was supposed to be a cleared hallway, but I saw five people. Five people isn’t that bad, but when you’re hand-cuffed — I live with these people.”

They took Bradley to a hospital. After just a few hours, doctors let her leave.

“This past week, every time I see a cop now, I literally get so nauseous I almost pass out, just because it gives me flashbacks.”

Dr. Chris Brownson, the Director of the Counseling and Mental Health Services says when students are in crisis, it’s rare police are involved.

“I think the important message I would want people to know is that it’s the courageous thing to do to seek help. The vast, vast majority of students in crisis — and I can’t emphasize this enough — have nothing to do with hospitalizations or police departments,” says Dr. Brownson. However, he says if a professional believes a student is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others, they may request help from police.

“Is it scary to have a police officer come to your door? And I just want to say, of course. If you’re in any kind of mental health crisis, it’s distressing by its very nature,” says Dr. Brownson. “But it’s not the standard for counselors to do house-calls in those situations, because they’re not trained to do that kind of stuff in the community, not knowing the kinds of situations they may be going into. It’s not the standard of care.”

Brownson says in the 2014-2015 school year, there were 54 hospitalizations of students in mental health crisis, and 61 percent were voluntary.

He says they welcome student feedback and have a lot of mechanisms to facilitate that. Students can provide feedback online through the CMHC website. All complaints are reviewed by Dr. Brownson, and he says each one is addressed. There’s also a student advisory committee, which frequently goes over policies and procedures.

This week was Suicide Prevention Week at UT Austin, a campus-wide event raising awareness and education on the issue of suicide prevention. It’s the second leading cause of death among college students.

Dr. Brownson says it’s critical roommates, friends and loved ones recognize when someone they know is showing signs of being suicidal.

“I think the first thing I would do and advise is: speak to the person you’re concerned about. You want to make that human connection with them, you want them to know you notice and you care, and you’re there for support. That creates a relationship between the two of you where that person knows it’s safe to come back to you over time,” urges Dr. Brownson.

In more extreme circumstances, he encourages friends to call the mental health crisis line at (512) 471-2255. And if you’re concerned for someone’s safety in that very moment, call 911, where professionals are trained to deal with these emergency situations.

This week all UT students were sent a video highlighting the importance of bystander intervention, recognizing the early warning signs and intervening with those who may be struggling with a mental health issue or contemplating suicide. The video is available for all colleges and universities in Texas to use.

Bradley says while she understands the counselors and police were doing their job, she believes there’s a better way to help in certain circumstances, and hopes sharing her story will help find new solutions.

UTPD mental health crisis training

All University of Texas police officers are trained to respond to a mental health crisis, receiving 16 hours of training in their academy. All UTPD officers with two or more years of experience are given 40 hours of additional training and are certified as mental health officers.

Every three years the department has refresher training for all officers.

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