A university mental health policy that cuts students off from support services is no health policy at all.
The University of Toronto’s Governing Council recently approved a university-mandated leave of absence policy, allowing school administrators to place students suffering from mental illness on mandatory leave.
The policy doesn’t enforce mandatory medical professional consultation, prompting understandable concern from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
U of T calls the policy non-punitive, but it shuts struggling students out of a familiar environment, doing more harm than good.
Many students lack the privilege of support outside their respective campuses. Some have anxiety regarding their academic standing, but disconnecting them from a stable routine often exacerbates the issue.
Removing struggling students from campus denies any control for those who already feel powerless.
The leave of absence is enforced if administration deems the student “a risk of harm to themselves or others.” Administrators may institute a leave if a student is struggling in their academic program and mental illness is suspected to be involved.
However, academic performance is no indicator of wellness. The linking of the two suggests U of T cares more about academic standards than student health.
Without mandated medical consultation, the policy fails to consider administrators’ experiences with or knowledge of mental health. This creates room for individual bias in any recommendation of leave. It also sets a dangerous precedent for inconsistent evaluation standards.
The policy further infantilizes students in its failure to consider what happens to those who are placed on leave. U of T doesn’t answer whether tuition will be refunded, how international students will be accommodated, or whether partially-completed courses must be retaken.
Queen’s has been frequently criticized for its lack of sufficient mental health resources, including inaccessible mental health resources and long appointment wait times. While we need to introduce more resources, improving the ones we do have is a start.
U of T’s recent decision, and the outcry which followed, should remind Queen’s of the importance of mental health to students.
Though the policy’s language is not punitive, its action is.
The leave of absence policy asks those suffering from serious mental health issues to disappear and discourages students from being honest, disclosing their mental health concerns, and seeking help.
U of T’s proactive revision of student mental health policy is commendable. However, their disregard for the realities of the student experience make the policy no more effective than a band-aid over a bullet wound.
Universities must consult students in need of support before they attempt to legislate and act on their behalf.
—Journal Editorial Board
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