This week, the Fulcrum reported on a Carleton University student who was forced to leave the university after the administration said it could no longer support her mental health issues.
Last year, we reported on a policy proposed by the University of Toronto, which would allow the institution to place students on mandatory leave if they are a danger to themselves or others, or make the educational process more difficult for others, or are having difficulty with their own education, due to mental illness.
This is a disturbing trend, and one Canadian postsecondary schools need to work to reverse.
This is not to say that this is an easy situation to navigate. But first off, we need to look at what is lost when someone is unable to complete their degree.
The research clearly shows that university graduates make higher salaries and have access to more jobs. A study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario found many other benefits of being a university graduate, such as rating physical and mental health higher than people with less education.
You might argue that a student could later return to their education, but it’s undeniable that this would be harder. In the case of the Carleton student mentioned above, timing also created issues with OSAP assistance.
On a more basic level, it’s a school making a choice about someone’s academic future without their input, even if they have a great academic record.
Keeping all this mind, it’s clear that there’s a heavy cost associated with following through on policies that place students who are suffering from mental health issues on mandatory leave.
Of course, if a temporary leave is necessary and agreed to by the student, it’s good that such measures are available. But making such a major decision without the student is not acceptable.
Instead of implementing such policies, universities should be looking at how their resources are allocated, and how they could be better distributed to help in dire situations. In the first example, Carleton did at first support the student, but later insisted on having her leave because they could not sustain the support. Finding ways to have such supports in place in a sustainable way should be a major goal for schools across the country.
In addition to doing all they can in-house, universities should be open to finding groups they can partner with to make sure their support for people experiencing mental health issues is as effective as it can be.
Earlier this year, we reported on accessibility issues at the University of Ottawa, and Canadian universities in general. It’s clear that universities need to keep reevaluating their priorities and thinking about how they can offer quality education to everyone. Universities should be extending this mindset when making policies that affect people experiencing mental health issues.
There are other changes universities can make that, while they may not be solutions in acute situations like those listed above, can improve the academic environment and make it harder to reach such extremes.
For example, improving the efficiency of mental health services on campus and decreasing wait times is a solution that has been regularly discussed, but still has a ways to go.
There are many ways of making an academic environment more forgiving, like instituting breaks such as the reading week we’re coming off of. Looking at the structure of courses and how the workloads are distributed are all ways of making an academic environment better.