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McLean Hospital Guides to Care

Student Guide to Mental Health Treatment

Helpful Information for Patients, Families, and Friends

Most college and university campuses offer an array of services that may be useful to students with mental health issues.

Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Your psychiatric diagnosis might allow you to register as having a disability. Under the ADA, your school must provide certain accommodations for you once you register. For example, under the ADA you may be allowed to reduce your course load and maintain your status as a full-time student, thereby protecting your student health insurance coverage.

Counseling Services

These services are often provided at limited or no cost to students. Counseling center staff can be excellent advocates for you on campus, as they are trained to understand the special challenges students face. They have a long tradition of working with students and anticipating stressful times throughout the semester.

If you are acutely suicidal or homicidal, do not wait; call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not be embarrassed to call 9-1-1; the operators deal with psychiatric emergencies on a daily basis. In addition, campus police are often quite skilled at assisting students in psychiatric crises.

Urgent help can be found at your campus health or mental health center. Psychiatric crises do not always occur Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm, but be aware that help is available anytime. Spending even one night feeling suicidal is too much. If your campus health center does not have 24-hour help, you can go to a local emergency room where you will be evaluated to determine whether inpatient psychiatric care is needed.

Health Services

Many campus health service providers are skilled at handling mental health issues, including medication. These services are often provided at limited or no cost to students. Some students feel less self-conscious seeking psychiatric help through health services.

Dean of Students Office

The Dean of Students Office can be an excellent place to begin if you need assistance navigating multiple campus services. They are often skilled in eliminating barriers on behalf of students. Sometimes they manage campus crises and are very familiar with mental health and related issues.

Academic Advisors and Faculty

Increasingly, academic advisors and faculty are accustomed to assisting students with issues inside and outside the classroom. They recognize how important mental health is to academic success, and therefore respond with sensitivity when students disclose feelings of distress. The academic resource center and the learning and teaching center are also good sources of support.

Case Manager

A recent trend on college campuses has been to hire case managers to assist students with managing campus life while learning to cope with a mental illness or other adjustment issues. You can check with your campus counseling center or Dean of Students Office to learn about this possible resource at your school. McLean offers continued fee-based support for these issues through the College Mental Health Program.

Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Services

Campuses recognize that sexual assault prevention and awareness requires specialized attention and intervention, including crisis response, heightened sensitivity to privacy, safety concerns, and legal advocacy. Many schools provide specialized services for survivors of sexual assault. You may be able to request these services through your counseling center or locate them in a separate campus resource. Community resources can be especially helpful to students who prefer to seek off-campus support.

Student Organizations

Many schools have active student organizations with a mental health resource or advocacy mission. These groups may be unique to your campus or subchapters of national organizations, such as Active Minds and Students for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Student organizations can be extremely beneficial to students who want to feel empowered to make a difference and connected to peers through purpose and mission. Joining or establishing a student organization on your campus is an excellent way to make friends, find support, and offer education and assistance to others.

Religious and Spiritual Advisors

Recent studies of college students have revealed that spirituality can be an integral factor in psychological adjustment and health. Do not ignore your own growth and needs in this area. Most campuses offer a wide variety of formal (e.g., services, campus ministries, courses, and counseling) and informal (e.g., peer-led organizations and groups; gospel choirs and other faith-based musical groups; Bible, Talmud, or Koran study; and designated campus space for prayer) activities that might prove beneficial. It is common for schools to partner with community resources to meet the varied religious or spiritual needs of students.

SPECTRUM Services

Many schools have offices or advisors who specialize in assisting students with issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation, such as coming out, finding campus allies/communities, transitioning from one gender to another, or handling bias incidents. These services may be referred to as “SPECTRUM” or a variation of “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Questioning, Intersex, and Ally.” Learning to cope effectively with issues of sexual or gender identity is critical to sustaining mental health.

Residence Hall Advisors/House Deans

These campus professionals are often the first to be aware of or respond to a student with a mental health crisis. As such, they are often required to undergo extensive training in assisting students, roommates, and families with mental health concerns. Sometimes they accompany students to the hospital, and they are accustomed to dealing with confidential and sensitive information while navigating residential life and policies.

International Student Center/Advisors

Adjusting to campus life in the United States can be very challenging for students matriculating from other countries. In addition to assisting with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and related matters, campus resources for international students can offer culture-specific support, education, and programming for students (and sometimes their families). They also have expertise on how mental illness is viewed in different countries and what complex sociocultural issues international students might face in addition to coping with a psychiatric diagnosis.

Campus Handbook

This frequently overlooked guide can be filled with useful information, including campus policies and practices related to living on campus, consequences for violating community standards, appeal processes and medical withdrawal, and readmission policies. Typically, campus handbooks are distributed at orientation and are available online through student affairs and campus life links.

Making Your Campus Resources Work for You

What Is Selective Disclosure?

Selective disclosure means that you can choose whether or not (and what) to tell your college about your treatment at McLean or elsewhere. StudentsWhile you are in treatment, our case manager may ask for your permission to contact someone at your college to facilitate your eventual return and adjustment to campus. This contact cannot be made by McLean without your written consent, and it is important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of allowing limited communication between your providers and your college.

Here are some potential benefits of providing consent:

  • Many colleges have additional resources for students with mental illness
  • Students often find it very helpful to identify at least one campus professional who is aware of their hospitalization
  • Your designated campus professional can be instrumental in advocating for you academically, financially, and medically post-discharge; he/she is experienced in navigating your college system while sharing limited information about your actual diagnosis
  • It can be very beneficial to connect with a campus professional even when you are not in crisis; in the event that future help is needed, you can contact this individual to discuss options

If you are in treatment at McLean or elsewhere, you can work with your therapist or case manager to decide what information can be shared—and even what language to use. Here are good questions to ask about disclosure:

  • What exactly will be shared and with whom?
  • Will my psychiatric information become part of my academic record?
  • What assurance do I have that the college won’t share my medical history beyond those for whom I’ve given permission?
  • What is the least amount of information that can be shared in order to receive support and accommodations from my college?
  • What if I change my mind?

If you do not permit disclosure, McLean’s staff can access our college database and give you guidance (provided by your school) as to how you can best facilitate your return to campus.

Navigating Campus Policies

All campuses have numerous policies that govern student life and behavior. Many are campus-specific, so it is important to be familiar with those unique to your campus. If you are learning to cope with a mental illness or recent crisis, here is a list of common policies that might be especially beneficial to you or impact you in some way:

  • Mental health withdrawal and readmission policy
  • Medical leave of absence or leave of absence
  • Tuition reimbursement or tuition insurance
  • Clearance required for return to housing following absence
  • Alcohol amnesty policy
  • Mandatory health insurance policy

According to ulifeline.org, college can be stressful for a variety of reasons:

  • Greater academic demands
  • Being on your own in a new environment
  • Changes in family relationships
  • Financial responsibilities
  • Changes in your social life
  • Exposure to new people, ideas, and temptations
  • Discomfort with your sexual identity
  • Preparing for life after graduation
  • Medication and/or counseling can help