Mental Health Issues on Campus: Blog Articles

Is Your Student Mental Health Accommodations Process Clear?

APRIL 09, 2019

An increasing number of college students are reporting that mental health issues—anxiety, depression, or both—affect their studies, and a recent article in The New York Times describes how higher ed institutions are acting as counselors. Make sure your institution's efforts to assist these students include clearly communicating your accommodations process. A United Educators (UE) analysis of 223 claims related to student mental health identified misunderstandings about accommodations as a possible path to liability and listed steps institutions can take to improve their response. 

For example, to safeguard students and protect your institution, you should:

Publicize your accommodations policy. This may be the single biggest takeaway. Many students who received accommodations in high school presume they automatically continue in college, but they don’t. Nearly half of the study’s claimants had not requested an accommodation from their college prior to the situation that triggered their claim. In your policy and on your website:

  • Remind students they are required to request an accommodation—a mental health diagnosis alone isn’t adequate.
  • Describe the process for requesting accommodations.
  • Explain that the institution will not grant all requests.
  • Remind students they must meet the coursework requirements included in accommodations provided.

Ensure delivery of approved accommodations. It sounds obvious, but it doesn’t always happen. Following up is crucial; failure to do so could lead to liability in a disability discrimination claim. You should:

  • Outline accommodations to the student and faculty members in a letter.
  • Address any questions faculty members have about the plan.
  • Check in with the student to ensure the accommodation was implemented.
  • Remind students they can file an internal complaint if there is a problem with the accommodation.

Clearly state accommodation limits for students in medical or other clinical programs. Students in medical-related fields comprised nearly one-third of the UE study’s claims from graduate students and 10 percent of undergraduate claims. Medical programs usually include clinical or practicum requirements. Institutions should:

  • Understand if a student is “otherwise qualified” to participate in a degree program; federal law may require an institution to provide. reasonable accommodations, but schools aren’t required to substantially alter an academic program.
  • Clearly articulate accommodation limits available for these students.
  • Consult UE’s “Checklists: Evaluating Your Mental Health Policies” for more suggestions.

Complete findings from the UE analysis are outlined in “ Student Mental Health on Campus: A Review of Claims.” UE members can download the study, checklists, and related resources; nonmembers can request access by emailing info@ue.org

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