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How do colleges react to applicants who have great stats but are mentally ill?

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Replies to: How do colleges react to applicants who have great stats but are mentally ill?

  • eireanneireann 1455 replies39 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,494 Senior Member
    I know somebody who applied early decision to a school where I would think the odds were stacked in her favor. She wrote her essay about overcoming an eating disorder, and was rejected -- not even deferred. I don't know why that decision was made, and nobody will, and it's possible that they were unrelated, but there you go.

    I have a good friend who struggled with mental illness while he was at MIT. They definitely try to provide support -- to the point of controlling his medical care and forcing him to meet with mental health and support services staff frequently (though he had outside treatment). He felt that the actual ability of these people to treat him was terrible and forced him to jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops and ultimately hurt his education and experience. He said that given the choice now he would not have sought treatment at all vs everything that he's had to go through with the school. He also would have chosen a different school.

    MIT I think is a bit unique though. I know every school has their stories and suicides but they had a lawsuit from somebody's parents and it looks like the school didn't really pay enough attention to the student's problems. MIT wants to provide its support and force people into it once they are there, but I think they see admitting people with mental health history as a risk they may not want to take.
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  • danasdanas 1770 replies11 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,781 Senior Member
    To generalize, fairly or unfairly, I think urban schools are particularly dangerous for young people prone to depression. There is just a level of anonymity that is tolerated in urban environments, or that may even be necessary in a densely packed living situation. The schools that jump out for me as suffering suicides are MIT, NYU and the University of Chicago, along with the not exactly urban, but gray and stressful Cornell.
    I live on the campus of the University of Chicago and work here. I have several friends who are undergraduate resident heads. All have had students in their dorms kill themselves- either jumping off the top of their dorm, scaffolding at the chapel, using pills, knives or guns.
    My kids have attended smaller schools, and one school in particular is rural. After years of reading the campus papers online at both schools, I know of one suicide. In this case the administration whisked the individual off campus and the suicide occurred over a year after leaving campus. My son had a friend who was a cutter and suffering depression. Same story. Get her the heck off campus. She later returned to school in better shape and graduated. Though neither of my kids' schools are LACs, there is a LAC like intimacy to them. Problems are noticed by fellow students and by levels of support staff. Miss a class you are used to attending when you are sick, and it is noticed. I'm sure I am being unfair, but I imagine disappearing at NYU or Columbia would take a while to be noticed.
    I don't know whether the "identify them and whisk them off campus" policy has better outcomes for the student in the long run. Obviously it is self-serving on the part of the college. I would just be wary of sending a young person prone to depression to schools where it is possible to be anonymous.
    PS- I would NEVER let college officials know of these issues as an applicant, and would immediately plug into OFF-CAMPUS supports if admitted and attending.
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  • blossomblossom 9591 replies9 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 9,600 Senior Member
    I think non-disclosure of any serious medical issue is a mistake- but I take it I am in the minority here. What's the point of getting admitted to Dream School only to arrive and discover it is a poor and potentially dangerous place for the kid? Frankly, whether or not having depression, or being bi-polar, or anorexic, is stigmatizing, would not be my concern if this were my kid. Knowing that my child had a shot at graduating, or at least emerging from college alive and psychologically intact would be my absolute priority.

    A college that rejects your kid (and you'll never know if it was the B- in Spanish junior year or the depression.... ) is doing you a favor if it's a place where mental health is a low priority, or where it's just too hard for an 18 year old to get appropriate support, or just advocate for him or herself.

    I had a depressed and suicidal roommate Freshman year. To this day, I think it was bordering on child abuse for the parents to assume that some random stranger (that would be me) at age 17, would be in a position to assume care of their child, in addition to my own adjustment to college. This was a far less enlightened age as far as mental illness goes... but for the parents to hope that their kid would "snap out of it" (direct quote when I called the Mom to tell her that her daughter had been talking about killing herself, non-stop, for two days) is irresponsible in the extreme.

    So I vote for disclosure.
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  • compmomcompmom 10576 replies76 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 10,652 Senior Member
    Blossom: admissions personnel and other college personnel are separate entities. Disclosure to admissions would not have solved your problem, unless that disclosure had meant your roommate would not have been admitted. That kind of discrimination is not legal.

    Disclosure to administrative staff (such as deans), health services, and residential staff are all helpful possibilities, and some parents or students tell all of these folks, as well as set up therapy in a private setting.

    So many students are "depressed" (and on meds- again, at top colleges, I believe it is up to 35%), it would be hard for schools to sort out who is seriously depressed and a danger to themselves, initially, without some very astute and attentive staff involved who are paying attention.

    You should not have had to make that call: it should have been made by staff, to whom you would be able to go to with the concerns. In fact, at our daughter's school, if you had taken concerns to the dorm staff, and then met with the dean, that student would have been sent home.

    Your situation was not the parents' fault, but, instead, some deficiency in the functioning of the college's own support system for students, both in regard to your roommate, and you. Or, possible, you took on too much responsibility yourself and went too long in bearing the burden of the problem yourself.

    The point is, there are usually protections in place that allow a student with treated depression to attend, while also preventing the kind of roommate problem you describe.
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  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom 24049 replies804 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    "I have a good friend who struggled with mental illness while he was at MIT. They definitely try to provide support -- to the point of controlling his medical care and forcing him to meet with mental health and support services staff frequently (though he had outside treatment). He felt that the actual ability of these people to treat him was terrible and forced him to jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops and ultimately hurt his education and experience. He said that given the choice now he would not have sought treatment at all vs everything that he's had to go through with the school. He also would have chosen a different school."

    I wonder about how well your friend was able to analyze his situation. Many -- if not most -- people with mental health problems are not able to determine what kind of treatment they need and how severe their problems are.

    I wonder about his analysis of the situation because if he had outside treatment, it seems that provider could have stepped in to help him with MIT. However, if his outside treatment was in his hometown, which was not in the Boston area, that could have been a reason why MIT insisted that he get help on their campus.

    This also stands out:

    "He said that given the choice now he would not have sought treatment at all vs everything that he's had to go through with the school. "

    Something must have been wrong or else he wouldn't have sought treatment, and MIT wouldn't have been so aggressive about making sure that he got help. It's highly unlikely that ignoring the problem would have made things better.
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  • MyLBMyLB 1051 replies51 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,102 Senior Member
    As luck/fate/?? (maybe the drinking water?) would have it, my oldest was diagnosed with ADD half-way through hs. We did not disclose on the college apps (although it certainly had something to do with his grades) but did inform the administration the summer before first year.

    However, this child had a definite, dramatic fall-off in grades for sophomore and junior years of hs. I think it would be odd not to provide an explanation, and I'm hoping society has come far enough that revealing depression wouldn't negatively impact admissions prospects, at least not everywhere. All of this assumes that treatment will work and we'll see marked improvement over the next two years. If that's the case, how else to explain the gap? Better to disclose "I had a bout of depression but have undergone successful treatment and am performing much better" or leave it be and let the adcoms assume he was a screw-up for a couple of years?
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  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys 16613 replies66 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 16,679 Senior Member
    It is my opinion that ADD and ADHD is so very common these days and disclosing it would cause less ripples in the reading of an app than would a disclosure of some sort of mental illness that could potentially impact other students, RAs, etc. Physical disabilities of course should be disclosed if it will impact housing arrangements and needs. And yes, if a student suffered "a bout of depression" or an eating disorder was treated and rebounded to great success their senior year I'm guessing that would not cause as many issues with an application. Now, if the student had a gap, was treated, came back to high school had another gap, etc. that is where the fine line exists not only for the parents trying to decide if the child is capable of handling college socially but for the school trying to figure out if the applicant is capable of handling college or is "at risk."
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  • MomPhDMomPhD 250 replies63 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 313 Member
    For a real life perspective about disclosure, seeking help when depressed in college, etc., read this story. It illustrates the importance of finding out the prospective colleges' policies and mental health resources ahead of time; that colleges differ is an understatement, and that your kid could be treated very harshly at their worst time is the sad truth.

    When There's Nowhere to Turn - Personal Tragedy, Suicide and Attempts, Depression, Coping and Overcoming Illness, Real People Stories : People.com
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  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom 24049 replies804 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    The below is from the article MomPhD linked to. i went to grad school in clinical psychology at GWU, and I had an internship at GW's counseling center. This is not the way that we treated suicidal students back then!

    "t was a typical Saturday night at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity on the campus of George Washington University. After catching a movie, freshman Ethan Helfand and a few of his friends headed back to the frat house to drink some beers. But around 1 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2005, one of the guys made a cutting comment to Helfand, a young man whose history of depression and suicidal thoughts stretched back to middle school. Crushed by the comment—words so hurtful that even today his friends will not repeat them—Helfand headed to his dorm and began gulping handfuls of antidepressants. After dashing off farewell e-mails to family and friends, he lapsed into unconsciousness. "I wanted to sleep and not wake up," he says.

    At 5 p.m. the next day, Helfand finally did wake up—at the university hospital. Under observation there for several days, he received a stream of visitors, among them a hospital employee who questioned Helfand as to how he would respond if he felt suicidal again. Eventually, a school therapist showed up to deliver stunning news: Effective immediately Helfand was forbidden from entering his dorm. In a state of shock, he recalls asking, "Where should I go?" only to be told bluntly, "Go to a hotel."

    Is that any way to treat a student with serious psychological problems? Increasingly, colleges around the country—faced with the threat of liability suits from parents when students kill themselves on campus—are taking a get-tough approach with students they believe are a risk to themselves and the morale and mental health of those around them.

    Helfand, now 21, decided to take a leave of absence from the Washington, D.C., university and returned to campus last January, despite his parents' opposition. But he has learned a big lesson from his experience, he says. Even though he takes antidepressants and sees a private psychiatrist, he insists that, no matter how dark his mood, he will never set foot again in the university health center. "I absolutely try to stay away from there," he says.....

    George Washington is by no means alone in adopting a get-tough approach. In August a former undergrad at Hunter College won a $65,000 settlement against the New York City school after she was locked out of her dorm room when she swallowed handfuls of Tylenol and called 911. Some colleges now ask students about their mental-health history during registration, and several hundred mentally distressed students are suspended each year, according to Gary Pavela, former director of judicial services at the University of Maryland. "Sometimes students need to be out of school," says Eric Fulcomer, a dean at Ohio's Bluffton University, where a student was forced to leave after a suicide attempt.

    At the same time, such institutions as the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., now let students who have threatened or attempted suicide stay on campus as long as they participate in four counseling sessions.
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  • ilikephysicsalotilikephysicsalot 17 replies3 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 20 New Member
    What a terrible story. That's what happened to me too. I used to go to a good college and then they made me take a leave of absence because I was suicidal. Now they're forcing me to transfer, and I have no idea what to write in that "why transfer" essay. Maybe I'll have to make something up.
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  • MomPhDMomPhD 250 replies63 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 313 Member
    As a parent, I also find it very distubing that because of HIPAA laws, parents may never be contacted or fully informed in these situations (a reason to get a HIPAA waiver).

    What we think should be best medical practice or most compassionate handling on the part of colleges, is in reality dictated by lawyers whose job it is to protect colleges from liability.
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  • speiheispeihei 356 replies9 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 365 Member
    I'm going to try to refocus. OP:

    How do colleges react to applicants who have great stats but are mentally ill? I have gaps in my education that would be hard to explain without telling them about my depression, and I'm wondering if that would be an automatic rejection.


    OP wants to "explain gaps". Once you offer an "explanation" your expectation of privacy is more limited, at least morally, if not legally. Once you put an explanation into issue, someone who wants more information relative to that issue has a right to expect it, or, in the absence of further information, act cautiously. So to all of the privacy advocates who have posted here, ruminate on this for a minute.

    Now if you're truthful and complete, that will definitely have an impact on an application in some places, especially those places that have had issues with this sort of illness. It would hardly be a surprise for MIT, in light of the very public problems they dealt with in this area, to avoid a potential future issue. If you're not truthful and complete, well there's a moral question there coupled with the reality that you may end up in an environment that is a bad fit for you. That would be bad for both you and the school.

    Respectfully, I would also consider that in addition to the obvious issues that OP has with a mental illness having an impact on a transcript, at college many students will experience a bevy of stressful situations for the first time. Not to say that many of these firsts do not occur in high school but in high school, you're rarely far from home. So consider:

    - drinking
    - drug use
    - roommate issues
    - relationship issues
    - sex
    - competition

    and a slew of other stressful situations that college students deal with daily and ask yourself, what school would be a good fit for me in dealing with or avoiding some of these potential issues?

    Maybe MIT is a good fit for OP but maybe not. Maybe a more nurturing environment coupled with good achievement would lead to MIT grad school. Don't feel obligated to sprint and connect with MIT early in life if it's a better fit later.
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  • eireanneireann 1455 replies39 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,494 Senior Member
    NSM, I'm being a bit deliberately vague because this is not about me and it is a public message board. I can PM you with more specific information if you like. I realize this may not answer very much. This is a very close friend and I've seen a lot of this firsthand.

    That said, he had (and has) very intensive treatment in the Boston area. He was still required to see a psychiatrist at MIT. I think the big thing is that they do know his medical information and he feels manipulated into things that his therapist agrees are a bad idea by people in support services with no medical or psychiatric background.

    He does need treatment and realizes that. He said that if the choice were either or, his first choice would be to matriculate at a different school. If he could have gone to MIT without ever disclosing anything to the school, he would have, although he's gotten pretty helpful accommodations at times. If the choice was be in this situation or not be in treatment at all, he says he would pick the no treatment at all (clearly that is a very hypothetical choice). He knows he needs the treatment badly, but he feels like the backlash from the school has made everything much worse.

    Back to topic -- OP, my advice would be to not disclose, but it sounds like people have without disastrous consequences. I would advise to look very closely at the schools that you are considering and their policies and support. Clearly your current school is not very supportive if they are forcing you to transfer? You don't want to go somewhere else that will react like that. That does sound like a frustrating situation, though. I'm sorry.
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  • mantori.suzukimantori.suzuki 3245 replies102 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,347 Senior Member
    I have done some thinking about the best environments for students suffering from depression and anxiety, and it seems to me that a smaller LAC (Amherst, but not high-pressure Swarthmore?) would be very beneficial. There, many adults *know* the student and the pressures they are under and can help them see early signs to avoid relapsing.

    Good thinking by seattle_mom, but since the OP seems to be considering MIT, I'd like to suggest looking into some LAC-like technical schools. Rose-Hulman comes to mind. Serious technology schools that are not total pressure-cookers, and where it should be easier to make a one-on-one with professors and administrators who can provide the proper support. A few others that I'm less familiar with, but which would be worth considering, are Colorado School of Mines, Missouri S&T, RIT, and Worcester Polytechnic. (I would not suggest Harvey Mudd.)
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  • collegealum314collegealum314 6683 replies85 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 6,768 Senior Member
    What a terrible story. That's what happened to me too. I used to go to a good college and then they made me take a leave of absence because I was suicidal. Now they're forcing me to transfer, and I have no idea what to write in that "why transfer" essay. Maybe I'll have to make something up.

    This is really appalling.
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