Policies hamper students' return from mental health leave

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Brown University student Okezie Nwoka experienced his first manic episode in the fall of his junior year. After being hospitalized for a week, Nwoka spoke to administrators about remaining on campus to complete the semester.

"I was convinced very strongly to take a medical leave," said Nwoka, who had been president of his class. "I thought about it and decided I could take the medical leave and still graduate on time."

When Nwoka tried to return the next semester, his application for readmission was rejected.

"They said I had to be away at least a year," Nwoka said. "The rejection letters — it's almost like a slap in the heart."

While most universities offer support for students with mental health conditions, some who have taken psychological leave have found the process of returning to school difficult or impossible.

Brown's official medical leave policy mandates that a leave — for either physical or mental health — "is expected to last two full semesters."

Mental health problems are common on college campuses: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-age students, and a 2011 American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment survey found that 30% of undergraduates reported experiencing serious depression during their college careers.

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