I came across this article in the New Yorker this afternoon, and it really made me mad. It seems that many colleges force suicidal students to leave campus and seek treatment if they do not do so voluntarily. I think this is bone-headed, but first, let me share my own personal reasons why I feel that way.
I am a new Harvard alumnus. I had so many positive experiences there. But I was also, at times, suicidal. Harvard is famous for the pressure it puts on students. There were times when I thrived on that pressure. And there were times when I just couldn’t take it. I never expected or wanted Harvard to lower its standards just for me. They didn’t. What they DID do was offer me the opportunity to take a VOLUNTARY leave to get help. They made it very clear that I was still considered a student, and that I would be welcomed back when I was ready to come back. They even gave me time extensions so I could finish my degree program. I still faced all of Harvard’s rigors. I just didn’t face them as quickly as students who don’t have mental illnesses.
If Harvard officials had FORCED me to leave, that almost certainly would have put me over the edge. It surely would have given me another excuse to consider myself a failure. I am very grateful that Harvard found a way to be accommodating without bending its academic standards.
Forcing suicidal students to leave campus does more than put scarlet letters on their heads. It may also stop students from seeking help in the first place. Getting help for mental illness is tough enough as it is. Would you seek help if you knew there was a possibility that you’d be forced to leave? I think not.
Colleges and universities should have the resources to handle mentally ill students. And if they don’t have those resources, they should put top priority on getting them. Treating mentally ill students as though they’ve done something wrong? That is NOT the answer.
Read the New Yorker article here.