Franklin James Cook

College Sanctions Student for Talking about Suicide

In Mental Illness, Policy, Stigma on December 4, 2008 at 10:51 pm

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.]

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  1. A 2007 doctoral thesis submitted to the Yale University School of Medicine by Marlynn H. Wei titled “University Policy and Procedural Responses to Students at Risk of Suicide” provides historical and legal background on this issue. Wei’s thesis makes comprehensive recommendations and concludes …

    “Universities and colleges should preserve the minimal due process protections of disciplinary systems along with a mental health approach by using principles of mediation. This paper has delineated the difficult questions that universities must face
    with students with risk of suicide or self-harm, specifically regarding procedural protections. I have set forth the framework for a proposal that will require a more detailed development in later work, including studies of administrative and efficiency cost
    comparisons. This is a policy-making area that may be reactionary to lawsuits. More studies are needed to assess changes in current written or unwritten policies at universities and colleges and, in particular, the number of students affected. In particular, as more colleges and universities may implement forced withdrawals, mandatory sessions, and the medical model, the need to ensure adequate procedural protections becomes ever more pressing.”

  2. […] connects me with suspicions of suicidality. There’s been a frightening trend recently of colleges kicking students out for having suicidal thoughts (I could find lots of links to examples of this, but I’m not in the mood, use google if you […]

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