Mental Health & Higher Education

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Too many people carrying a mental health diagnosis in higher education are subject to discrimination, unfair and disproportionate disciplinary action & premature expulsion from campus life. While colleges have services for people with mental health disabilities, treatment programs, and on site consultation for community vendors providing assistance, the problem in higher education persists. People with mental health diagnoses continue to battle institutional and systemic stigma corrupting the very ground floor of higher education.

As a student in Binghamton University, I struggled with my own battle internally against schizophrenia and outwardly against my college which was mishandling my application to graduate school. While my particular circumstances are unimportant, the colleges misinformed decisions on how to interact, support, and hear my voice as a student with a disability is very illustrative of how deep the void in adequate accessibility is in higher education.

Several incidents at Binghamton call upon a closer look at how colleges support services students with mental health diagnoses and level the playing field in administrative actions against students with disabilities so stigma doesn’t manifest into extreme disciplinary action for minor infractions just because the person has a mental illness. One learning moment from my college experience was during course registration. I had registered for a course in an area I was restricted from as a result of complaints that I had no purpose for taking particular classes. The outcome for my infraction was to be arrested and chained to a pole in the campus police barracks. Needless to say, as a clinician and advocate, how counter intuitive this measure was from the school in diffusing an already complicated situation and allowing it to snowball into a catastrophe.

These catastrophes are everywhere in higher education. As a clinician I heard countless stories all with the same causal and proximate root for reoccurring all over the country. I am recommending measures be put into place immediately to counteract and mend the damage inflicted upon students with disabilities.

It begins with more services and support, but ultimately, accessibility requires a college to adapt its culture and stance on mental health. I am a firm believer of change from within but now more than ever we need to bring in third party consultants to work closely with campus departments and incident aversion teams to assist with cases which trump existent support systems and services available to students.

Colleges can no longer operate in isolation and diffuse their incidents internally. It just doesn’t seem to work and hasn’t been working for some time. It’s time for colleges to open their doors to mental health awareness today before any more harm is done to our youth. 

About the Author

J. Peters

Bold 10 Under 10 award recipient Jacques Peters ’08, MSW ’12 . Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), therapist and disability rights advocate, Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various systems of care, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health or the city’s Department of Corrections. Jacques is the author of University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy, which he published under the pen name J. Peters in 2019, and First Diagnosis, published in 2020. Jacques refers to his stance on recovery in his journal articles as “Too big to fail.” No obstacle too big, no feat out of reach, Jacques let nothing stop him in his path to recovery and healing.
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