Monday, March 13, 2006

Mandatory leaves challenged

An interesting article in the Chronicle (subscription only - sorry!) on a student who's suing GW University for implementing their "mandatory leave" policy when he sought treatment for suicidal ideation.

The case stems from events that occurred on October 27, 2004. Early that morning, the student, Jordan Nott, lay awake in his dorm room. He was thinking about a close friend and fellow student who had committed suicide on the campus the previous spring. Mr. Nott, who was suffering from depression, woke two of his friends and asked them to accompany him to the university's hospital, where he received psychiatric treatment.

Later that day, George Washington officials informed Nott that, under the university's policy on "psychological distress," he could not return to his dorm. The following day, Mr. Nott received a letter from the university stating that he had violated the student conduct code by engaging in "endangering behavior." The letter said that George Washington had temporarily suspended Mr. Nott, and that he would face disciplinary charges unless he withdrew from the university and received medical treatment. The letter also told Mr. Nott that he was barred from the campus.

Now, my understanding of the philosophy behind "mandatory leave" policies is that they're in place largely for two reasons: 1) to cover the school's ass from a liability standpoint, so the student isn't on school grounds when/if they off themselves, and 2) To give the school some leverage in prompting an at-risk student to seek treatment if they're otherwise reluctant to do so. The problem is, as the above case makes clear, that reason 1 seems to trump the hell out of reason 2 in most cases. I mean, what the fuck kind of response is that to a kid who, after all, has done the right thing? I mean, we WANT suicidal kids to seek help - and it's not exactly supporting them in that effort if they know they're risking suspension and freaking disciplinary charges, for chrissakes. I never heard of anything so absurd. Mental health issues are stigmatized enough in this country. The last thing we need is vulnerable kids being punished for seeking help. (Read more about the case in this WaPo article.)