Students indicated that they wanted the College to make policies concerning mental health more transparent in a survery College Government (CG) conducted last semester. CG announced the results in Senate last week. The survey did not specifically look into what students did not know about the College’s mental health policy.
One controversial aspect of the mental health policy concerns the College’s guidelines in regards to student leaves of absence. The policy on leaves of absence and withdrawals is currently published online under the class deans’ page. The dean of the students and the Dean of Students Advisory Committee (DAC) primarily address student leaves of absence. The committee is comprised of directors of residential life, health services and counseling services.
Students worried about having so many parties involved in the process of reviewing the state of their mental and emotional well-being, a very personal and sensitive topic.
“Students may not be comfortable disclosing information to a third person, like a dean, who is not a mental health counselor, so it’s very likely that your dean doesn’t know what’s happening since you might be talking to other resources,” Ananya Ghemawat ’17 said.
Any student who has completed one semester at Wellesley can decide to request a leave of absence. In the case of voluntary leaves of absence, students must submit an application online describing the purpose of the leave and logistics for their return. Then, a class dean and the DAC must approve their application.
Some students may face a mandatory leave of absence for various reasons, which may be medical, financial or administrative. With a medically mandated leave of absence, the DAC can deem that a student needs time away from school to address medical or mental health concerns.
Before the student can return, they must produce a written statement to the director of health services, and possibly the director of counseling services at the Stone Center as well, reiterating the reasons for their leave of absence and explaining that they are ready to return to school. The student should also explain any accommodations the might need upon returning to Wellesley.
The documentation is then reviewed by the clinical team at the Stone Center and the director of counseling services sends a recommendation for a leave of absence to the DAC. In some cases, the students must allow their health care provider to release any necessary medical information to the DAC if the committee needs the information in reviewing a request to return.
The decision of whether a student needs to take a leave of absence and when they can come back does not depend solely on the recommendation of medical professionals. Administrators and staff members who are unfamiliar with issues of mental health may also weigh in on the decision. Students worry that this could lead to a disconnect between the mental health needs and the College’s academic expectations of a student.
“We don’t do a good enough job incorporating mental health practices and awareness in other areas like academics. It seems like there is a distance between mental health and academics,” Ally Thompson ’17 said.
Some students also stay silent about their mental health issues because of the College’s mental health policies, which puts their wellbeing at further risk.
“A lot of students are under the assumption that they will be forced to take a leave of absence if they disclose their mental health issues to the Stone Center,” Ghemawat said. “The people I know who have taken leaves of absences have found it difficult to come back. A leave of absence may also not be the best option for students who may do worse at home due to the lack of routine and who may not have financial resources at home to find a clinician.”
Claudia Trevor-Wright, assistant director of health education at Wellesley, meets with students who struggle with various mental health conditions and directs them to other resources.
“I like to think of myself as air traffic control. Students will come talk to me, and we’ll talk about what the source of the difficulty is, and I’m able to connect them to people who do the substantive work to address what the concerns are,” Trevor-Wright said. “Sometimes that’s a counselor at the Stone Center, sometimes that’s a medical provider, sometimes it’s a class dean.”
Occasionally, she also does outreach on issues related to mental illness like by hosting workshops on body image.
“A good health educator will meet students where they are. The underpinnings of my role are to figure out where students are at when it comes to their health and well-being needs and to work with them to where they want to be,” Trevor-Wright said.
The Stone Center has its own outreach position, which was filled by Megan Edwards, who was the staff psychologist and assistant director of group and outreach activities until this year when she went on maternity leave. The Stone Center is currently looking to fill that position.
“When it comes to health and mental health resources, negative voices can be heard very loudly, whereas positive experiences are not as vocal,” Trevor-Wright said.
It’s not only a lack of student voices on campus, but lack of pervasive information about resources.
“If you don’t know much about the Stone Center, that could dissuade you from going,” Thompson said. “Instead of information about the Stone Center’s phone number or open hours, there should be a flyer or something else that’s really visible that says exactly what the Stone Center offers.”