We’re hearing more and more about this alarming trend among US Colleges: Students with depression are being encouraged and/or forced to leave campus on “medical leave” but are faced with huge and often discriminatory obstacles when trying to return. “No school wants a suicide — or, even worse, another Virginia Tech — on its campus” suggests Katie J.M. Baker, a Newsweek reporter.
The problem with this short-sighted “solution” is that it only serves to increase the stigma surrounding depression or other mental health-related issues, which further alienates those suffering.
As reported in another of Baker’s articles for BuzzFeed News, “the emotional health of incoming college freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades, according to the annual American Freshman Survey. More than 30 percent of students say they have felt so depressed in the past year ‘that it was difficult to function,’ according to the American College Health Association, and more than half have felt ‘overwhelming anxiety.’ Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age students.”
Mental health is becoming a scapegoat for the increasing gun violence on school campuses, which has helped to shape – and continues to propagate – a culture of stigma, intolerance, and apathy for those suffering. I understand that school administrators have an obligation to protect the student body, and if there’s someone on campus who represents a threat to that body, he or she should be removed. However, we cannot use “mental illness” as a catch-all reason to evict students on mass in hopes that we’ve removed one or two who may pose a threat.
The right solution is to identify the causes of the increased stress and anxiety experienced by students today, and to make the required changes in the curriculum, support network, and facilities to curb those stressors. Further, facilitate the mental health dialogue among students and increase the opportunities they have to connect with professionals in order to better manage their stress.
The fact that suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death among college-aged kids in North America should be a fact that hits us all over the head like a brick. It should inspire compassion and fuel a need to find solutions that deal with the causes of this epidemic instead of leading us to shun those who are suffering.
The growing number of students who report some form of mental health concern did not create this problem; they’re by-products of our changing society and culture. We’re all part of the problem and we must be part of the solution.