Following two student suicides in 2016, Yale University is facing a lawsuit for forcing another student to take mandatory medical leave. The woman, represented by the initials “Z.P.” in documents, was removed from campus after she reached out for counseling. Z.P filed the lawsuit in early November because the school did not offer accommodations to her when it became known that she had depression. Furthermore, Z.P. claims that she was involuntarily treated at the Yale-New Haven Hospital and that the hospital staff gave Yale officials her medical information illegally.
According to Yale Daily News (YDN), the student sought assistance after the suicides because of the “business as usual” attitude around campus. YDN continued that she was told that once she admitted herself to the hospital, she would meet with a treatment team, but she was not informed that she would be held involuntarily afterward.
Z.P. was placed on a forced medical withdrawal as a senior, and she returned in the 2017 fall semester. The student graduated in 2018. The student expressed her desire to stay on campus to Yale officials so that she could continue to learn, but Yale officials are being accused of not wanting anymore “bad press” than they were already experiencing from the earlier suicides. The student’s lawyer said that these actions were not taken to assist the young woman but to protect Yale’s reputation. In doing so, they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Yale’s College Programs of Study lists that among other reasons for a leave of absence, a student may be removed if they are a danger to their self or others, or if they refuse to cooperate with efforts to determine if the student is a danger. The situation seems to have been uncalled for in Z.P.’s case. The student was seeking counseling, but instead, she was involuntarily treated and placed on leave with little reasoning. Yale Daily News said that this was done while ignoring her “improved mood and coping skills.”
The lawsuit, among many studies, suggests that there is an underlying issue in the way colleges handle mental health issues. In fact, other students (including at least one who committed suicide) cite the fear of being removed from school as a reason for not seeking help from their college.
The American Psychological Association published an article in 2013 that says 95% of college counseling center directors believe that the number of students with psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus. Anxiety and depression are the issues on the forefront of this. Most colleges knowingly offer support to students struggling with such problems, but the threat of being placed on a mandatory medical leave adds to an already present stigma. The stress of falling behind in classes and pressure to study hard and make good grades are factors that pile up on top of other worries a student might have. Counseling centers should facilitate an environment that is open and nonjudgmental, otherwise, students who are suffering will not seek help in fear of the consequences.
It’s not clear what steps Yale will take to improve their counseling processes. They have not commented on the lawsuit at all. However, Hendrix students have extremely accessible counselors who can be visited by appointment, and a method that aims to support and aid students, without the threat of punishment for seeking help. Hendrix Counseling Services can be reached at 501-450-1448.