Mandatory mental health policy draws criticism
- Students with mental health concerns enrolled at the University of Toronto may be asked to go on a mandatory leave of absence if they are thought to be a threat to themselves or others, according to the Toronto Star.
- The university’s governing council approved the plan with input from concerned groups, but some still say they are worried about how the decisions will be made, if students' rights will be protected and whether the policy might discourage students from seeking support or treatment for a problem.
- The policy has been debated for a year and a half. It requires that a health professional be consulted about any decision, but opponents say there was a “lack of effort” to really address the concerns of disability groups.
The University of Maryland recently drew fire for asking a student to be evaluated before returning to her college housing after she voluntarily sought mental health treatment for what she said was a panic attack.
Yet other universities have been criticized or sued for not stepping in when a student was suffering from a mental health issue. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology student’s parents sued the institution because they said it had not done enough prevent their son from committing suicide and should have had him leave campus (the court later ruled they were not responsible), and Princeton has been sued by a student who said he should have been prohibited from returning to his dorm room after he made a suicide attempt. Others have criticized institutions that did not ask students who later became a threat to others to leave, such as Virginia Tech, where a student with mental health concerns killed 33.
Scientific American reports that a semester-long class at Boston University (BU) has had success helping students who had to leave campus to address mental health issues. For three years the college has offered students from BU and other colleges a program through which they can learn coping skills to help them return and gives them a non-stigmatizing explanation for their absence. They get regular assignments but have plenty of coaching and counseling, as well as connections to others undergoing similar issues.
Some universities have had success with programs in which students 0 more openly, making it more likely that a student will report a concern with themselves or others.
The rate of college mental health issues has risen sharply, according to a recent report from Pennsylvania State University researchers. At the same time, college counselors report being overloaded with students who need treatment.