Hello, and welcome to another episode of Discrimination Against Mental Illness. I’m your host, Amber, and we’ll be discussing how college campuses ban students suffering mental health issues.
I get regular Google Alerts on mental health tags and subjects, and usually I just read them to keep up-to-date on current events to do with mental illness. But this one, I just couldn’t let slide by. An article from Buzzfeed tells the story of “Dave,” a student of Brown University who was put on “medical leave” by Brown after a suicide attempt. After cleaning up his life through an abandonment of alcohol and drugs, along with going to regular therapy sessions and getting on antidepressants, Dave was refused reinstatement at his college campus.
Brown University basically blocked him from contacting them, and even went so far as to send the police to his door with an official order stating he was not to contact them in any way. He was also banned from any property owned by Brown University. Sadly, Dave’s story is not as unique as we’d like it to be. Other college campuses ban students suffering mental health issues, most likely for the sole reason of not wanting to deal with them. The stigma of mental illness still pervades academia and the university life.
Although schools need to think about what’s best for not only the university, but the student and community as well, it seems that colleges and schools go a step too far and institute measures that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to return to school.
Karen Bower, Dave’s legal counsel, mentions this also:
“There are consequences to keeping a student on extended leave… student loans can accrue, the university can cut off health insurance, and students lose their on-campus support network. The process is also often unclear and anxiety-inducing, especially for students that have worked so hard to get to where they are.”
It is important to note that students put on medical leave due to mental health issues are allowed to return, provided they don’t pose a clear, determined threat to the university community. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s “Know Your Rights” guide goes so far as to state that:
“…a student who wants to return to school after taking a medical leave for mental health issues ‘should not be subjected to more rigorous standards or procedures’ than a student who went on leave because of a physical condition.”
So what does this say about the struggle to overcome the stigma of mental illness? If these rights are clearly stated and written into a code of conduct, but the university still chooses to bypass or ignore them, what can we do about it? After several requests for readmission, and several more failed appeals, Dave is working to overcome the stigma and become an advocate for others at Brown who are being stigmatized by university officials.
My humble opinion is that standing together to advocate for one another is the best path. Organizations such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Stamp Out Stigma (UK) provide support for those struggling with mental health issues as well as legal counsel for those facing problems like Dave’s. If anyone else has some helpful resources, please let us know in the comments section below.
How do you think the stigma of mental illness should be addressed on college campuses or elsewhere? Share your thoughts!