Mental Illness & Education

Equal access to education is important but in many ways not always a reality. This is due to a wide range of factors, one of which is disability. Disability not only affects individuals when applying and getting accepted to college but also once they arrive at college. Colleges do offer services for disabled students but there is a different attitude towards mental and physical disabilities that may make some students hesitate to reach out to disability services. The incomplete list of qualifying conditions for disability services for The Ohio State University is: “ADD/ADHD, Learning Disabilities (e.g. Dyscalculia, Dyslexia), Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Blind/Low Vision, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Temporary Injuries* (e.g. broken arm/leg, concussion, surgery recovery), Pregnancy-related medical complications, Cancer, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Crohn’s Disease, Paraplegic/Quadriplegic, Schizophrenia, and Amputation” (OSU disability services). Universities across the nation have lists similar and offer resources to aid in the education of their students. This list includes both mental and physical conditions so on the surface it seems that universities provide a safe, helpful and inclusive environment for students with mental disabilities but this is often not the case. Universities across the nation have kicked students out of dorms for attempting suicide. This could create an environment that is unwelcoming for students to reach out for help. “….dozens of current or recent students at colleges and universities across the country – large and small, private and public – told Newsweek they were punished for seeking help [for mental health issues] : “kicked out of campus housing with nowhere else to go, abruptly forced to withdraw from school and even involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards”. This is the kind of treatment that would never be inflicted on a student with a physical disability so why is it ok for this to happen to mentally ill students. This is especially concerning when the statistics for suicide on campus are taken into account. “There are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 25 to 34 and the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24”. Kicking a suicidal student out of their dorm is not going to help make them any less suicidal; it only makes life logistically easier for the university. School is supposed to be about learning and if students are afraid to reach out for help and are forced to struggle with their mental illness, they will be unable to learn. Universities and students need to step up and give all students the opportunity to learn.

Dealing with a disability is hard enough on its own but it is even more difficult when society and your school treat you as a threat or liability instead of a human. A person in a wheelchair or a physical disability would never be kicked out of a dorm or have people insinuate that they just need to try harder to get rid of their disability. Nobody would tell a person with a broken leg that they are simply not trying hard enough to walk and if they really wanted to they could. There is a stigma surrounding mental illness that either treats the mentally ill as lazy or dangerous, both of which are unfair and usually inaccurate assumptions. This stigma runs over into the professional world, making it more difficult for an individual with a mental disability to have a stable career. This creates an unwelcoming environment and leads people to isolate themselves. Isolation is one of the first steps to suicide and as highlighted earlier. Although suicide is the more extreme result, people with mental disabilities deserve respect and care even when death isn’t a possible outcome. If an individual who gets kicked out doesn’t have family that can house them, then being thrown out of the dorm could have serious consequences such as homelessness. The added stress of fear or the possible consequences of revealing suicidal ideation/ mental illness could worsen the mental illness or drive them to unhealthy and dangerous coping methods. It doesn’t matter how many resources are available if people are too afraid to get help. Hopefully we will be able to create spaces for people to be open about their mental illness and suicidal urges without being hospitalized or have their education put in jeopardy.

-Athena Androulakakis

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