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

ilikephysicsalotilikephysicsalot Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
edited August 2009 in Parents Forum
I posted this to the MIT board and they told me to post here, so here goes:

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.

Thanks for your advice!
Post edited by ilikephysicsalot on
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Replies to: How do colleges react to applicants who have great stats but are mentally ill?

  • NorthstarmomNorthstarmom Registered User Posts: 24,853 Senior Member
    Colleges are wary of accepting students with mental illness because colleges know that going to college is very stressful and can cause relapses in students' mental illness, and those relapses can be fatal to the mentally ill student or others. This particularly is true because in college, a student is in a new environment and won't be surrounded by mature people who know them well and can help them get appropriate help if the student shows signs of illness. This includes the fact that the student likely won't be seeing the same therapist who had been treating them.

    Still, I do know students who have had depression problems, and admitted those problems, and still were admitted to top colleges.

    The more important concern, however, -- one for you to talk about with your therapist -- is finding a college that would meet your emotional as well as academic needs. This includes finding a college that has on campus or nearby accessible mental health professionals who are experienced with your mental health condition.
  • warriorboy648warriorboy648 Registered User Posts: 787 Member
    We have a friend in a similiar situation. She was told that her "health" was no one's business and she should refer to her situation as a chronic illness. Her GC was to address the situation in the same way.,
  • VeryHappyVeryHappy Registered User Posts: 18,587 Senior Member
    ^^^ I like that.

    It could be depression, it could be diabetes, it could be lupus. And the statement has the added advantage of being true. Who can argue with that advice?
  • bessiebessie Registered User Posts: 1,818 Senior Member
    Great advice to limit the information you give. I think if you do disclose your depression that the school's reaction will depend on how severe your depression has been and how stable you are now. If it comes up, make sure you have a mental health plan ready to go once on campus. Have the name of a local physician and/or counselor handy. On other words, communicate that you will not end up being the school's problem. Plenty of colleges deal with depressed students and it is becoming more common every day so apply with as little information as you can and then don't freak out if you end up disclosing- it may not be the thing that keeps you from being admitted. Good luck and congratulations on being successful in spite of fighting a difficult battle!
  • dntw8updntw8up Registered User Posts: 1,594 Senior Member
    I don't think it is ethical to refer to mental illness as "chronic illness" in order to keep the mental health matter private. Unlike physical health problems, mental health problems are rarely perceived as problems by the mentally ill, which tends to result in profound mental instability before intervention is considered. I think students with a history of mental illness have a responsibility to disclose their illness to school administration, so that the community can watch for indications that a student's mental health requires medical attention. Students with a history of mental illness also need to ensure that the school has the legal ability to treat emerging mental health problems, even though the student may not perceive the existence of a mental health problem. I think physical and mental health problems are sufficiently different that their histories of existence should be treated differently, and I think mental illness should be fully disclosed.
  • PeaPea Registered User Posts: 2,387 Senior Member
    I have gaps in my education that would be hard to explain without telling them about my depression

    This sentence tells me that your bouts of depression can be extreme.

    Since you first posted this on the MIT board it makes me think that you are considering going to MIT. This is one of the schools that may exclude you based on this information. There was a terrible story years back that people probably remember of a student's suicide at MIT. The parents subsequently sued MIT on the ground that they didn't do enough to help their daughter.

    In the years following MIT started not admitting students who took anti-depressants. They were criticized for this but their position was that while there is nothing wrong with taking anti-depressants MIT might not be the right environment for someone who has trouble with severe depression. They have a point.

    I am not as concerned about whether you disclose your condition to your schools as I am that you take care of yourself. I too struggle with depression. I have learned that I can't have too much stress in my life or it could trigger an episode. I also exercise regulary and take an anti-depressant. Good luck.
  • dntw8updntw8up Registered User Posts: 1,594 Senior Member
    MIT had ten suicides during the ten years from 1991 through 2000. After Elizabeth Shin's suicide in 2000 (which I'm guessing is the one to which Pea is referring), MIT began to consider the mental health of its applicants, and suicides on campus have dropped dramatically. Depression tends to be incompatible with high stress environments, so it is in the best interests of the applicant, his or her family, as well as his or her future academic community (dorm mates, classmates, professors), that the applicant's mental health status be disclosed during the application process.
  • ilikephysicsalotilikephysicsalot Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
    Thanks for all the helpful responses!
    This is one of the schools that may exclude you based on this information.

    What are the other schools that might? :p
    (I'm considering MIT, Stanford, Harvey Mudd, UChicago, Yale, UCBerkeley, Brown, Amherst, Williams, Rice, Northwestern, Swarthmore, UWashington, WUSTL, UCLA, Georgia Tech, and USC.)
    She was told that her "health" was no one's business and she should refer to her situation as a chronic illness.

    Hmm...this is a good idea, thanks! (Wouldn't they get suspicious though?)
    I too struggle with depression. I have learned that I can't have too much stress in my life or it could trigger an episode. I also exercise regulary and take an anti-depressant. Good luck.

    Good luck to you, and I hope you are feeling better now.
  • seattle_momseattle_mom Registered User Posts: 1,034 Senior Member
    Hi! I went to MIT in the 80s and at that time, it was NOT a supportive place for someone struggling with depression. Even though I don't know how much the school has changed, the environment was so pressurized that I would still warn you to be VERY careful about going there.

    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. I am curious whether others have found this to be true.

    Incidentally, I have had issues with anxiety and depression that are very much under control now for over a decade. I hope you will realize that you CAN and probably WILL do just fine in life -- and that recognizing and treating your condition has been a great first step. Good luck!
  • eireanneireann Registered User Posts: 1,494 Senior Member
    If you mean that question in the context of an MIT application, don't tell them. From what I have heard from friends, the environment has not changed much since seattle_mom went there. They were also sued by the parents of a student who committed suicide fairly recently, so they really want to keep their asses covered.
  • twomulestwomules - Posts: 1,207 Senior Member
    The midwestern LACs tend to be a little more laid back. Look into Grinnell, Carleton, and Macalester.
  • MyLBMyLB Registered User Posts: 1,102 Senior Member
    I have a tangential question. One of my kids had a pretty precipitous drop in grades beginning in 10th grade, seemed sad a lot, . . . We decided to move him out of the public hs and have him repeat his junior year at a private school. Since that decision he has met with a therapist and been diagnosed with depression. I have every hope that he'll receive successful treatment, but of course part of me can't help but wonder how we explain this on a college app. The slip (fall, actually) in his grades was not a lazy kid--it was a depressed kid. How do we explain that when it's time to start applying? I've been through the process once with my oldest, and am honestly trying to remember if there was a place on the application that made sense to divulge something like that.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 10,644 Senior Member
    There is a difference between what you might tell admissions (your call, but you can say you had a "chronic illness" and your GC can say the same), and what you should tell the college once admitted.

    Admissions should not discriminate, and you only need divulge something to explain the gaps in your education. Some admissions offices will even consider gaps due to illness as a plus, as long as you ended up doing well, showing that you "overcame obstacles."

    Once admitted, you should immediately begin working with the disabilities office, and the health services office, and you should set up some therapy for the academic year. Read about the Americans with Disabilities Act and think about what might help you in terms of support. This course involves honest disclosure of your history of depression, and is up to you and your current therapist can advise you, then document things for you as needed.

    You understandably don't give a lot of details (such as whether you were hospitalized, or how you are doing now) but you should know that at Harvard, I have read, 1/3 of students are on anti-depressants.

    Some depression is part of an "adjustment disorder" during adolescence, and some depression that starts in the teens is more chronic. Again, we don't need to know any more than you have told us, but in either case, there is plenty of hope that things will turn out fine for you in college.

    Your college list is full of high-pressure schools both in terms of admission and attendance. Obviously you are bright. You might, however, want to look at schools that do not have a "survival of the fittest" kind of competitive mentality. Someone mentioned Carleton and Macalaster, and I would add Oberlin. Up to you. You would probably do fine anywhere, if you continue to take care of yourself, but smaller LAC's would probably be more attentive to individual needs.
  • missypiemissypie Registered User Posts: 18,479 Senior Member
    There is a difference between what you might tell admissions (your call, but you can say you had a "chronic illness" and your GC can say the same), and what you should tell the college once admitted.

    That's exaclty what I was going to say. You've got schools on your list that aren't safeties for anyone. If you disclose and are not admitted, you'll probably wonder for a long time whether it was due to mental illness (or just not being lucky enough to be part of the 11% or whatever that they admit.)

    But if you attend, you should disclose and carefully assess the support available and the environment of the school.
  • ilikephysicsalotilikephysicsalot Registered User Posts: 20 New Member
    Someone mentioned Carleton and Macalaster, and I would add Oberlin. Up to you.

    Thanks for the school recommendations. For a while my dream school was Caltech but I heard they are unfriendly to the mentally ill (apparently they had three suicides this semester). Maybe I should go to a small liberal arts school for the same type of environment. Which liberal arts schools have good programs in the maths and sciences?
    (your call, but you can say you had a "chronic illness" and your GC can say the same),

    Won't the schools be worried that my chronic illness might return and prevent me from attending there?
    You understandably don't give a lot of details (such as whether you were hospitalized, or how you are doing now) but you should know that at Harvard, I have read, 1/3 of students are on anti-depressants.

    That's an amazing statistic. I once read that the lifetime prevalence of mental illness is 46%. This means one in two people walking down the street with you is, has, or will have suffered from a mental illness in their lifetime.

    No, I have not been hospitalized (but I should have been). Right now I'm out of school and recovering steadily. Everything should clear up by the time I get to college, but I'm afraid it might come back under stress. I've already been depressed three times.
    I have a tangential question. One of my kids had a pretty precipitous drop in grades beginning in 10th grade, seemed sad a lot, . . . We decided to move him out of the public hs and have him repeat his junior year at a private school. Since that decision he has met with a therapist and been diagnosed with depression. I have every hope that he'll receive successful treatment, but of course part of me can't help but wonder how we explain this on a college app. The slip (fall, actually) in his grades was not a lazy kid--it was a depressed kid. How do we explain that when it's time to start applying? I've been through the process once with my oldest, and am honestly trying to remember if there was a place on the application that made sense to divulge something like that.

    I hope your child is alright. Good luck with the treatment process, it can be pretty hit-or-miss sometimes (but 80% of depressed people recover) :) You can always divulge it in the additional information section on the common app if you so desire, and if your school doesn't use the common app they usually have a spot for that stuff too.
This discussion has been closed.