Kids with mental illness pushed out of college


Forced medical leave. That’s how many colleges are dealing with the public health issue known as suicide.

Currently, suicide is the number two leading cause of death at colleges across the US. I was not aware that forcing and then preventing a student to return to college was the “solution” many colleges have adopted. That’s not a suicide prevention strategy, it’s a suicide avoidance strategy.

Until I was on a river cruise having a conversation with a mother whose son experienced this treatment, I was unaware of it. The number one issue for some colleges is to preserve their precious reputation. The goal is not to address the subject or help the student.

So they are perfectly fine with that student going home and killing themselves. As long as it’s not on their campus.

The mom I spoke with said that it’s known now among kids at prestigious private and Ivy league schools in particular, that students should not use the “D” word as that is a ticket for being forced out. (D= depression) This story from a young man who attended and graduated from Stanford. He kept his problems under wraps and unfortunately became addicted to Adderall, a common medicine of abuse at colleges– another problem not regularly addressed at colleges. Drug use is often associated with mental illness and suicide.

While Ivy Leagues should be supportive of students that need their services, they are actually discouraging students with mental health problems from attending their universities.

“In 2012, a student at Princeton overdosed on his antidepressant medication. Full of regret, he immediately sought help from the school’s health center. He was hospitalized for three days, made a full recovery, and then was forced to withdraw from the university. Instead of receiving further help and support from his own school, he was kicked out. The only message this sends to students is that they will be punished for seeking help for depression and other mental illnesses.” (Source: The College Crisis)

I want parents and students to know that taking a gap year and and doing something else, attending a trade school or starting with a community college are all good ideas. The pressure of success is literally killing our students. I also want you to know that the price of an Ivy League education, in particular, could very well cost a student his or her life. Is it really worth it?

Parents and students alike should be addressing it with speakers, campus walks and programs for suicide prevention. Instead, they are trying to bury the problem which does nothing for preventing unnecessary and preventable death.

What to do?

If you are currently trying to choose a college and you or your child knows they have a mental illness or disorder, look for colleges that support students with mental health challenges and do your research on the college. Other students will tell you if it’s a school that is quick to send someone home if they say the “D” word (depression). You want to avoid those universities as they are not as dedicated to the whole student.

Here’s what I did. When my older son went to college, I went to the counseling department and researched the protocol for what happens if a student needed help. When Richard hit a snag his junior year and called me distressed, I knew what to tell him and he followed that protocol for getting help at a difficult time. He needed support and he got it but then he was at a small art school, and many of those institutions have more support than liberal arts universities. But given that suicide is the #2 cause of death for college students, most universities have stepped up efforts although many of them still fall way short.

You can see if your school is a JED campus or in the process of becoming one, meaning they have been through a four-year overhaul with the JED Foundation. If you know your child has struggled with SUD (substance misuse/substance use disorder), see if it’s a campus with a recovery program. (See this page on my site that has a list of college resources with links that are kept up to date.)

Below are some articles expanding on what I’ve written here as well as resources for college support and re-entry.

Articles on the subject of getting “pushed out” of college for mental health issues

Why are we seeing this uptick in depression and suicide?

Book —The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

Helpful resources for students struggling with mental illness and/or Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Colleges with SUD recovery programs. Most of these are aimed at addiction recovery.

Challenge Success  –At Challenge Success, we believe that our society has become too focused on grades, test scores, and performance, leaving little time for kids to develop the necessary skills to become resilient, ethical, and motivated learners. We provide families and schools with the practical, research-based tools they need to create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for kids. After all, success is measured over the course of a lifetime, not at the end of a semester.

College Re-entry –This program is dedicated to helping students with re-entry into college after having withdrawn from their studies. This could be due to any issue including a suicide attempt to loss of a parent or even due to cancer treatment.

Interactive Screening Program (ISP) from AFSP, American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Those who exchanged anonymous online messages with an ISP counselor were three times more likely to enter treatment. This program is successfully used at many US colleges. It’s an anonymous online tool for students experiencing mental health issues or suicidal ideation. It’s anonymous until they make the choice to reach out. Advocates – Ask your college to implement this program. UCLA ISP Program

It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health– There is a 20 minute film for incoming college freshmen and for high school juniors and seniors from the American foundation of suicide prevention as well. Your local AFSP chapter in Washington would have access to that and could arrange for it to be shown at venues in your area. I don’t know if you have events or not but this might be a good event to have to start the conversation and prevent suicide. They premiered it at the January 2017 leadership conference in CA to which I was invited to attend.

Hold a Campus Out of the Darkness Walk– This can be for high school or college and illustrates support to those who suffer suicidal ideation

Active Minds Chapters–Active Minds is a mental health organization at colleges across the US.

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

2 thoughts on “Kids with mental illness pushed out of college”

  1. I am a student who is returning to college soon and can’t really express in words how much I can relate to this article. I was undiagnosed and suffering from a manic episode in college my freshman year. Behavior that resulted from this was concerning to campus administration and my school (which is a nationally recognized research university in the Boston area) made it incredibly difficult to come back. I ended up being suspended and am finally returning in January. The way the administration treated me and my family was not aligned with understanding of my mental illness or health issues at all. I was ignored and even given a trespass warning stating I would not be allowed on campus.

    1. I am horrified you and your family were treated this way. Would they have treated a student returning after cancer treatment this way? No. You had a disease too that needed treatment. I am so amazed at your resilience and guts to post here. I would love for you to write a story of your experience for my readers. You can be anonymous or use your first name only. Or use your whole name. Your choice.

      No matter what you decide I want to thank you for posting your comment so people know this is real. And for any student who had to take a medical leave from College for mental illness or substance use disorder, this organization can help with re-entry. http://collegereentry.org

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