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Faculty Role in Responding to the Acutely Distressed College Student Open Access

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The acutely distressed student, one who exhibits disturbing or disruptive behavior that is outside of the norm of other students due to significant mental illness and who may be at risk to harm oneself or others, poses considerable challenges to today's higher education institutions (Amanda, 1994; Jed Foundation, 2006; McKinley & Dworkin, 1989). This study was a qualitative, interpretivist exploration of the factors that influence the intentions of faculty to respond to the acutely distressed college student. Hopefully, by identifying these factors, institutions can better empower faculty to participate in campus-wide mental health promotion and suicide prevention strategies. Using an interview protocol framed by Ajzen's (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), the salient beliefs influencing the intentions to respond to the acutely distressed college student of 20 full-time, instructional faculty at a single institution were elicited. The TPB served as an effective theoretical framework with which to elicit these beliefs, yet there were several factors beyond the TPB which were identified that appeared to also influence faculty's intentions. Recent mental health promotion and suicide prevention models for higher education institutions stress the need for training of gatekeepers in the signs and symptoms of acute distress and suicidality (Jed Foundation, 2006; National Mental Health Association/Jed Foundation, 2002), however, the factors identified in this study that appear to influence faculty's intentions may be less amenable to traditional strategies, such as training promoted campus-wide. Thus, the recommendations provided take into consideration these factors, along with other findings of the study, and suggest alternative strategies that may be more effective.

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