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The Bazelon Center believes that colleges and universities should be committed to the success of all their students and should encourage students to seek counseling when they feel depressed or overwhelmed or otherwise have mental health needs. Yet some schools lack comprehensive policies for responding to students with mental health issues or do so in discriminatory or punitive ways, requiring them to leave school or evicting them from college/university housing. Some charge students with disciplinary violations for suicidal gestures or thoughts. Such measures discourage students from seeking help. They isolate students from social and professional supports—friends and understanding counselors and teachers—at a time of crisis, increasing the risk of harm.
Schools often respond to students with mental health needs in ways that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Under the ADA and Section 504, colleges and universities may not exclude students because of their mental health needs, except when the student cannot meet academic and behavioral standards even with treatment and other help. In addition, schools must provide students with disabilities “reasonable accommodations” —modifications to normal rules and procedures that enable students to continue and succeed in higher education.
The Bazelon Center has created Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities (PDF) to support students with mental health needs and to ensure that schools’ actions toward students are nondiscriminatory. The model was developed after consultation with mental health experts, higher education administrators, counselors and students. We also offer a FAQ guide and a guide to campus mental health issues developed by community leaders.
In late-January 2018, the Bazelon Center and Steptoe & Johnson LLP formed a partnership aimed at helping students who are stigmatized and discriminated against at institutions of higher learning due to their mental health disabilities. This partnership focuses on providing legal assistance to students who contact the Bazelon Center about issues they face at their schools, including difficulties with reasonable accommodations, troubles with voluntary or involuntary leaves of absence, and obstacles related to disciplinary matters that stem from their disabilities. Since the launch of this partnership, more students have been able to contact us about campus mental health issues and receive assistance, and we have been able to raise more awareness about these issues.
If you or someone you know is a student at an institution of higher learning in need of assistance, please send a detailed message to [email protected] with your full name, phone number, city and state of residence, and a description of the matter. The Bazelon Center and Steptoe & Johnson LLP will review the request and determine whether we can provide legal assistance or other services.
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