Clear policies along with a centralized, coordinated and caring approach are essential to effectively supporting students in distress; and to ensuring the safety of the student and the campus at large. The tools and resources in this section were designed to help campuses develop a coordinated and comprehensive approach for identifying and supporting students who are displaying concerning, disruptive and/or distressed behaviour because of a mental health problem. In line with best practices and a model policy, particular emphasis is placed on how to effectively support students in distress in a fair, non-discriminatory and non-punitive way.
Currently, there is no consensus on how campuses should respond when students are in crisis, particularly if they manifest self-injurious thoughts or behavior or appear to pose a potential threat to others. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, DC is the first and only body that has created a model policy to date. Although the Bazelon Centre’s policies are American-based, many of their key recommendations are relevant to Ontario’s postsecondary schools as well. The Bazelon’s policy entitled Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities was developed after consultation with mental health experts, higher education administrators, counselors and students throughout the United States. This policy provides a balanced approach with effective supports to students in distress while also ensuring the safety of the student and the campus at large. Although the policy acknowledges this may be challenging and complex, it recommends that campuses adopt a comprehensive plan that responds to students in distress in non-punitive ways. Campuses must carefully consider their responses from both a mental health lens and legal lens. For example, punitive actions such as requiring students to involuntarily leave campus, evicting them from college/university housing and/or charging them with disciplinary violations for suicidal gestures can discourage students—not just the penalized student but all others—from seeking help. These measures can isolate students from social and professional supports— friends and understanding counselors and teachers—at a time of crisis, increasing the risk of harm. Moreover, campuses can be liable, as these responses to students with mental health problems/disabilities may violate their human rights according to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). The following processes and policies will help colleges and universities navigate these complex issues and develop a nondiscriminatory approach to a student who is in crisis because of a mental health problem.
Bazelon Centre for Mental Health Law (2007). Supporting Students: A model policy for colleges and universities. Accessed from www.bazelon.org/Where-We-Stand/Community-Integration/Campus-Mental-Health.aspx.