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). Under the ADA, 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 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 guide, developed by a group of young leaders, for students seeking help for mental health issues.