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According to the American College Health Association’s most recent annual national survey, 30 percent of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some time over the past year. Nearly three fourths of respondents in a 2011 National Alliance on Mental Illness study of college students diagnosed with mental health conditions said they experienced a mental health crisis while in school. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal disability laws prohibit discrimination against students whose psychiatric disabilities “substantially limit a major life activity” and mandates that colleges and universities provide them with “reasonable accommodations” – such as lower course loads and extended deadlines – provided they can meet nondiscriminatory academic and behavior standards and provided their disability does not pose a significant risk of substantial harm that cannot be mitigated by those reasonable accommodations.

Despite that very clearly stated law, dozens of current or recent students at colleges and universities across the country – large and small, private and public – told Newsweek they were punished for seeking help: kicked out of campus housing with nowhere else to go, abruptly forced to withdraw from school and even involuntarily committed to psychiatric wards. “Colleges are very accustomed to accommodating learning and physical disabilities, but they don’t understand simple ways of accommodating mental health disabilities,” says Professor Peter Lake, an expert on higher education law and policy who sees widespread fear and reluctance across the board to “promote diversity that encompasses mental disabilities and mood disorders.”  Professor Lake tells skeptics about a man who suffered from clinical depression and constantly talked about suicide: His name was Abraham Lincoln.

“Schools should encourage students to seek treatment. But a lot of policies I see involve excessive use of discipline and involuntary leaves of absence, and they discourage students from asking for the help they need,” says Karen Bower, a private attorney who specializes in disability discrimination cases in higher education. “Ultimately, that makes the campus less safe.”

Schools don’t actually accomplish anything when they kick students out who aren’t an acute threat to themselves or others, says Ira Burnim, legal director of the D.C. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “All that’s been accomplished is that they’ve gotten that person off their campus. To me, that is the epitome of discrimination.”

(For the full Newsweek article written by Katie J.M. Baker, February 14, 2014:

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