Mental Health Defenses

Mental Health and Academics. Good mental health is simply critical to academic success in so many fields and programs. Professional studies like law, accounting, engineering, and social work, academic fields like science, mathematics, history, biology, philosophy, and literature, and even health fields like medicine, nursing, psychology, and pharmacy, involve primarily intellectual, more so than physical, pursuits. Students generally need abundant mental resources, strong attention and concentration, and sound memory, processing, and cognition, to pursue, persevere through, and complete much higher education. It risks stating the obvious to say that mental health and strong academic performance go hand in hand. Academic performance has almost everything to do with mental processing, mental health, and mental and emotional competence. A university article on student mental health summarizes research showing that “high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more prosocial behavior and positive social relationships, and improved physical health and life expectancy.” If you are a college or university student, then pay close attention to your good mental health.

Mental Health's Role in Academic Issues. Given mental health's critical role throughout higher education, a student's poor or declining mental health and acute mental health crises can quickly impact the student's academic performance and progress. Mental health challenges can contribute to any number of academic issues, including course attendance problems, course withdrawals, incomplete courses, failing grades, unsatisfactory academic progress, academic probation, and academic dismissal. College and university employees, especially instructors, academic advisors, academic support personnel, department chairs, and student deans, but also registrars, student services staff, security personnel, and custodians, daily witness the negative impact of poor student mental health. The cognitive demands of college prevent students from hiding poor mental health, which instead promptly gets reflected in declining academic performance. If you are a college or university student experiencing mental health issues, get help. Those issues are likely to affect your academic performance and progress.

College Mental Health Concerns. College and university students in general, as a population, suffer every form of mental health problem. Academia is no insulator from mental illness and disorders. According to a recent college admissions service article, the top student mental health problems on campus include depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, and addictions. Indeed, the article calls mental health problems among college students a crisis and epidemic. A related foundation article cites an American College Health Association study finding that a large majority of the nation's twenty-million college students suffer mental health issues. Sixty percent of college students experience overwhelming anxiety, while forty percent experience depression so severe that it interferes with their functioning. Incredibly, and sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among students on campus. A recent Inside Higher Ed article reports survey results showing that nearly nine out of ten professors find that student mental health has worsened or significantly worsened during the pandemic. Don't be surprised if you witness mental health issues on campus or experience them yourself.

How Academics Can Contribute to Mental Disorder. Academic pursuits can stimulate, enliven, improve, and invigorate mental health. But academic pursuits, demands, and environments can also degrade and disorder mental health. The abstract of one National Institutes of Health study summarizes why college can fuel mental health issues: “Attending college can be a stressful time for many students. In addition to coping with academic pressure, some students have to deal with the stressful tasks of separation and individuation from their family of origin while some may have to attend to numerous work and family responsibilities. In this context, many college students experience the first onset of mental health and substance use problems or an exacerbation of their symptoms.” Don't expect bliss on campus. On the contrary, students should generally expect and prepare for greater mental health challenges than they have yet faced. As the NIH study indicates, those challenges are a difficult but necessary part of maturing. Indeed, the NIH study shares that young adulthood brings a peak in mental health problems, with 75% of those who will suffer mental illness having had the first onset by age twenty-five. Alcohol abuse and illicit drug use also peak in young adulthood, according to the same study.

Mental Health Resources. Colleges and universities know the impact of declining mental health on student performance and retention, classroom conduct, and campus culture. Schools also know the importance of mental health services on campus, as a student mental health service article summarizes. More than two-thirds of college presidents regard student mental health as among their most pressing issues. Mental health resources can improve student academic performance, support general well-being, prevent suicides, and increase retention. Schools thus supply a variety of mental health resources to address student mental health issues and minimize their impact. An Inside Higher Ed article notes new telehealth options, accepting text, audio, video, and photo messages 24/7, among the traditional counseling and psychological services. Mental health treatment can be critical to a student's management of and recovery from mental health problems. As the NIH study quoted above indicates, “Among college students, mental health problems not only are common, but they often persist for several years.” Students who find that their mental health is impacting their studies can do nothing better than get treatment.

Educational Disabilities. Educational or learning disabilities are another significant mental health issue on college and university campuses, affecting academic performance. Diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disorders are often a factor when a student gradually or suddenly faces academic challenges like attendance issues, incompletes, course withdrawals, inadequate academic progress, probation, and dismissal. A nonprofit advocating for disability services notes that colleges and universities don't have to develop individualized education plans (IEPs) for students in the way that grade schools do. They don't have to provide abundant disability support and services. But colleges and universities must, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensure equal access to students with disabilities. And that obligation means that they must provide disability accommodations. Common accommodations on college and university campuses include note-taking services, audio or video recordings of lectures, laptop computer use in the classroom, and exams in distraction-free settings with extra time. One of the best steps a student can take when facing inexplicable academic challenges is to test for learning disabilities.

Mental Health as a Defense to Academic Issues. The urgency of seeking treatment for mental health issues on campus has, first of all, to do with preventing student suicide. Mental health treatment has next to do with preserving and improving the student's good health and functioning, including academic performance. But mental health diagnosis and treatment can also play an enormously helpful role in defending, navigating, and resolving academic issues. College and university administrators have moral, institutional, and legal duties to support student mental health and accommodate mental disabilities. Academic policies frequently give instructors and administrators authority to modify academic requirements and grant special relief for emergency and extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances can certainly include mental and emotional illness, disorders, and crises. The first and best thing you can do if mental health has put you at risk of academic probation and dismissal is to get a mental health diagnosis and get mental health help. The information and documentation from that mental health diagnosis and treatment can be critical to obtaining academic relief.

Academic Progress Relief. Academic policies can and do account for poor mental health as grounds for academic relief. If your mental health issue has put you at risk of probation or dismissal, then you should have administrative relief available to you. Under Section 484 of the federal Higher Education Act and its implementing federal regulation 34 CFR 668.34, colleges and universities must maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies requiring students to maintain a minimum grade point and complete a minimum percentage of attempted courses. Your school's SAP policy is what creates your academic probation and dismissal risk. But the same federal regulation 34 CFR 668.34 authorizes schools to relieve students from their SAP policy for special circumstances. Clemson University's SAP policy is an example, offering SAP relief for a student's extenuating circumstances. A mental health crisis on campus impeding your academic progress is almost certainly an extenuating circumstance. If you adequately articulate and document how your mental health emergency prevented you from complying with your school's SAP policy, then you should have relief.

Other Academic Relief. SAP policies are not the only academic policies that can offer relief from their strict requirements due to a mental health crisis. Schools also maintain late course withdrawal policies that have a similar escape valve. Ordinarily, students must withdraw from a course that they cannot or do not wish to complete by the date that the registrar publishes. That date may be early in the term. But a mental health crisis may occur later in the term that prevents the student from completing the course. In that instance, the student may only withdraw under the late course withdrawal policy. The University of Mississippi's late course withdrawal policy is an example, offering relief in cases of “extreme and unavoidable emergency as determined by the student's academic dean.” Suicidal ideation, acute depression, disabling anxiety attacks, and similar acute mental health disorders can certainly constitute an extreme and unavoidable emergency qualifying for relief.

Appeal Procedures. Getting mental-health relief from your school's strict application of its academic policies, though, isn't as simple as just saying the words mental health. The student who needs and deserves such relief must follow college or university appeal procedures while clearly articulating and reliably documenting the mental health issue and its academic impact. Clemson University's SAP policy is an example, providing an appeal process for SAP relief based on the student's extenuating circumstances. At Clemson, SAP appeals go to an SAP Review Coordinator who presents the student's submission to an Appeals Committee. The Appeals Committee looks closely at the student's documentation of the mental health issue. Significantly, though, the student must submit a plan for academic recovery. Clemson's policy states that the student must convincingly address how the student will correct the SAP deficiency while providing reliable documentation for that plan. Appeals based on mental health issues are certainly justified. But to be compelling, those appeals need to be articulately crafted and thoroughly documented.

When to Get Academic Attorney Help. If your poor or declining mental health has contributed to a significant academic issue, like impending or actual probation or dismissal due to course incompletes, withdrawals, and failures, then you should consult an experienced academic administrative attorney early, not late, in the academic proceeding. College and university academic administrators know that mental health issues contribute to academic problems. Yet, they are not always duly sensitive to providing deserved relief from academic policies. They instead often ignore mental health issues as grounds for relief. That ignorance is why you should consult an experienced academic administrative attorney early, rather than late, in your academic proceeding. An academic administrative attorney can help you get the documentation and make the compelling presentation necessary to get insensitive administrators to do their job in providing due relief. As the proverb goes, speak softly, but carry a big stick. In academic proceedings, your academic administrative attorney is that big stick.

Academic Administrative Attorney Available. If you face academic discipline, probation, suspension, or dismissal because of mental health issues, then you need the representation of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney. You can do no better than to retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to aggressively and effectively represent you. Your school, program, or mental health issue don't matter to the availability of expert representation. Attorney Lento has represented countless students at colleges and universities nationwide, in all kinds of programs, suffering all kinds of mental health issues. Get the expert academic administrative attorney help you need to prevent mental health issues from ruining your education and preventing you from pursuing your desired career. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell us about your case.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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