ORIGINAL BROADCAST — A story broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Tuesday offers a troubling example of the challenges colleges and families face when it comes to meeting the mental health needs of students.
In the NPR story, reporter Larry Abramson talks to the parents of Jeremy Jackson, who was suspended this spring from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio, the day after he told his parents (and they in turn let college officials know) that he was thinking about killing himself.
A letter to Jeremy delivered to him the day after he had spoken to his parents said that his talk about suicide “was in violation of the college policy,” and he was given “a disciplinary suspension.”
A blogger at MentalHelp.net responded later on Tuesday, capturing both the rationale for and the irrationality of the expulsion:
What these college administrators were likely trying to do was to play it safe and limit the potential liability that a suicidal (and possibly homicidal, who knows really) student might pose to their larger student body. It is arguably a college’s right to bar a student from attending classes who is likely to become disruptive or a threat.
… [but] the decision to expel a student for admitting he was in need of help is nevertheless a wrong decision, and for a simple reason. When you offer rather extreme negative consequences for seeking mental health help (such as getting kicked out of school), you discourage students from seeking help, and thereby cause them to be likely to not get help.
The blogger also posted an update on Jeremy’s status, that he is “on involuntary leave until January 2009 at the earliest.”
As a postscript, it is noteworthy that a recent SPNAC post titled “College Mental Health Legal Guide Published,” points to a new manual that is available, “Student Mental Health and the Law.” And the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has developed “Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities” “to help colleges and universities develop a non-discriminatory, non-punitive approach to students in crisis because of mental health problems.”
UPDATE (12/5/2008): In addition, Bazelon provides a comprehensive “Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights!,” a guide for students who want to seek help for mental illness or emotional distress.
[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/SanctionsStudent.]