“How Colleges Stop Depressed Students From Returning To Campus”


BuzzFeed explores the tendency of many US colleges and universities to force students with depression to go on leave, and never come back. One particular case is examined in detail, showing how school administrators justify — and fail to clarify — their reasonings.

And the Associated Press covers the story of a graduate student who has sued Fordham University in New York, “seeking $5 million in damages and saying the college violated her civil rights by demanding her entire record of mental health treatment as a condition for returning.”

How Colleges Stop Depressed Students From Returning To Campus (BuzzFeed, June 22, 2015)

Fordham, Education Department Sued Over Student’s Mental Health Records (HuffPost, July 3, 2015)


  1. It is so amazing to see a major news outlet cover this! Thank you for posting. My former graduate MSW advisor, at San Francisco State University, created a program – called the “Student Success Program” – to provide wrap-around and preventive services to students, and to promote an inclusive, safe, validating environment (among other things). It is completely Recovery Model-oriented. I was lucky enough to help give input into some of the program design. Here is the link to anyone interested: http://studentsuccess.sfsu.edu. SFSU

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  2. As a former director of a major university mental health service, I’ve been appalled by the growing superficial concern for students by university with the undermining of actual service provision. There is an annual conference Austin-Riggs psychiatry institute on college mental health, and in attending many of these conferences, a major concern among service providers was the intrusion of administrators on the quality of mental health services. Basically, bureaucrats and university lawyers want to distance universities from responsibility for care, with resulting policies of forced medical leaves and referring students off campus for services. There is no reason why colleges and universities can’t have adequate services on campus. Clearly forced medical leaves are dangerous, especially as often the root cause of the problems that students have can be the home environment, with school life frequently being more of a safe space, even with academic pressures. Keeping students in university is usually crucial to their emotional progress. Universities are also encouraging the prescribing of medication, or simplistic symptom control modalities, rather than providing proper therapy. A major issue that one sees in students these days is that often they have been brought up more as products than as people, with not enough space for their emotional lives. Both medication and symptom control modalities collude with the message that the only thing that is important in life is achievement and functioning. These modalities will lead to increased emotional distress in the long run, as they interfere with emotional development. Students deserve and need proper help and room to grow, rather than being treated as if there is something fundamentally inadequate about them.

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    • “Products rather than people.” A very good way to put it, And that goes beyond the problems with psychiatry. That attitude has been adopted by large parts of our culture. It’s very scary, but not really new. It’s just that it is becoming the norm, if it isn’t already.

      Very perceptive comment.

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      • I agree, too many parents push their children too hard, to the point they’re drugging them so they’ll do better in school (as if this will help these children in the long run???). I didn’t run into that too much in my neighborhood, but most the kids in my church went to a neighboring school district, which was very competitive.

        That school district had the highest high school suicide rate in the nation by the time my eldest was in high school. And I remember learning, when volunteering with the church youth program, that our Wednesday night family style dinners were the ONLY family style dinners many of these children had ever experienced. What a sad reality in regards to the state of our society’s families’ lives / values.

        And, it’s dumb to teach your child they must attend an Ivy League school anymore. If you research colleges and universities, many of the Ivy League schools are not actually good undergrad teaching schools any longer. The professors are so concerned with publish or perish, the undergrads are taught by the graduate students. Not to mention, look at Harvard’s Biederman. Do you actually want your child being taught by people like that?

        The kid in the article was messed up in the mind by his parents, although the universities should no longer be advocating belief in the bio-bio-bio DSM psychiatric model. And it’s quite sad, Norman, the universities know enough about the BS that is psychopharmacology today that they’re trying to avoid liability by shipping the youth off campus for “treatment,” but they’re still teaching the garbage within their curriculums.

        My mom told me today she spoke with a friend whose brother is a psychiatrist, and he’s just embarrassed beyond all belief by his profession at this point. I pray to God the psychiatric stupidity fest is ended. Historically, only evil governments supported psychiatry, how long will it take the majority of U.S. citizens to realize we’ve had the “warrior elite” banking families in charge since George Bush, or prior? And we need to retake our country.

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      • Hi Ted,

        You’ve pointed to a very common and serious problem. Many fundamentally wrong and dangerous beliefs are becoming the norm, with institutions buying into the marketing of biological psychiatry and other beliefs. It is now the norm for people to start of psychiatric assessments saying “I think I have depression”, and for doctors to use the ridiculous “It’s like diabetes” analogy. It’s become acceptable for parents to be more concerned about achievement for their kids than kids emotional well-being. It’s now the norm, as Someone Else points out below for families not to have meals together. It is the norm for universities to buy into the biopsychiatry model, looking at emotional distress as being an illness. It is the norm for universities to emulate a corporate attitude where they want to market their success and distance themselves from what should be their goal: to help develop intellectual and emotional growth in young people. Universities should be safe space for students but instead are productivity mills where emotional distress, suicide and sexual harassment are common, largely due to the attitudes of the universities. ( one can read my piece on “Sexual Assault on Campus at http://www.drnormanhoffman.com)

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        • “It’s like diabetes”
          Except that this rhetoric ends the moment you get a label. Can you imaging they treated someone like this if he had diabetes? The media storm would explode and there would be condemnation from all sides. But make it “depression” and it’s all about “balancing rights and security”.

          Apparently sad people are very dangerous. Or maybe they are dangerous because thy may figure out why they’re sad and start organizing to do something about it?

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          • “Civil rights laws and cultural destigmatization of mental health issues have made it possible for more students to attend top universities, he said. But even so, we have to “come to grips with the fact that there are just some people who aren’t best suited for the environment. It’s not good for them, it’s not good for us,and it’s maybe even dangerous.”” – Peter Lake, a law professor and higher-education consultant

            Am I the only one who thinks this guy should be fired and send for “mental health” treatment in order to learn some empathy and human decency?

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  3. I can’t help but believe that this is tied into the popular notion that people with any type of mental health diagnosis are viewed as ticking time bombs. The article even mentions this. It is tiresome to see wild conclusions become fact in the arena of public opinion. Politics and money trumping actual information.
    Most of what I have read on the topic actually put the diagnosed people at a greater risk of being victimized.
    Great to see this information brought to the surface but wondering how long it will take to reverse the trend.

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  4. Hi Squash,

    You are absolutely right. . Universities are now doing what the rest of the psychiatric industry has been doing for a long time. Take people with emotional distress caused by family or societal issues, give them a mental illness diagnosis, then spend resources saying how terrible mental illness is and how we need to de-stigmatize it and say people need help but not on our territory. Proper help is then not given and underlying problems leading to the distress are not addressed.

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    • Not to mention that they generate “mental illness” in the first place. Ive League schools are not renowned for their welcoming social atmosphere and reading the quotes from people working there in the article I’m pretty sure that there’s a high selection pressure to keep in the psychopaths because anyone else is not “best suited for the environment”. I wonder who’s lacking insight…

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  5. I hope she wins and she wins big. This is ridiculous. “mental illness is just like any other illness” – my a**. Do they ask for all your medical records if you take a leave for a broken leg? It’s an illness like any other except it will make you a second (or third or on par with invertebrates and just behind a lab mouse) class citizen and screw you over for the rest of your life.

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