November 4, 2006

Depression in schools

Posted in Education, Mental health at 3:17 pm by The Lizard Queen

I came across this article on CNN.com the other day, and it concerned me. Here are the pertinent details (with emphasis added):

A former student who was barred from the campus of George Washington University and threatened with expulsion after checking into a hospital with depression has settled a lawsuit with the college, both sides announced Tuesday.The school told Jordan Nott his 2004 hospitalization violated the school’s code of conduct because it demonstrated dangerous behavior. He said he hadn’t tried to kill himself before the hospitalization, but had been thinking about it because of the suicide of another George Washington student.

He was barred from campus and threatened with suspension or expulsion unless he withdrew. He decided not to fight the charges and transferred to another school a few months later. …

The Bazelon Center [for Mental Health Law, which represented Nott] is also representing a student at a Connecticut boarding school who was placed on a mandatory leave after seeking treatment for depression.

What bothers me about this is less that it demonstrates the othering of the mentally ill that is all too prevalent in this country–though, of course, that does bother me–but that Nott and the unnamed student in Connecticut are being punished for seeking treatment for their depression. Depression is far from unusual in adolescents and young adults, and I feel that the message that’s being sent here is that students should keep their depression to themselves. Nott recognized that he had a problem and took positive action to alleviate that problem, and he was punished for it. I think of the mention of “the suicide of another George Washington student” and wonder what GWU’s administration would have done had they known ahead of time that that student was suicidal. Would they have simply threatened him with suspension or expulsion, as they did Nott? If Nott had killed himself after the events of 2004 took place, would the school have felt justified in barring him from campus? The more I think about this, the more it bothers me. While I don’t expect universities or other schools to be babysitting their students to watch for signs of mental illness, I think that if a student is willing to seek help for their illness, the university should be supportive, rather than wanting to rid themselves of that student.

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1 Comment »

  1. Another thing about this that’s bothersome is that people with depression are very, very rarely a threat to anyone other than themselves They will self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, cut themselves or contemplate self-mutilation or suicide but depressives very rarely want to hurt other people so it doesn’t even make sense to say these students were a threat to anyone other than themselves.

    I totally agree that the schools should be supportive of their students seeking help. It’s not an easy decision to make and the stigma is already there.


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