KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: CAMPUS STUDENTS UTILIZING COUNSELING SERVICES

Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights is a guide for college and

university students to your legal rights when seeking mental health services.

It also explains what you can expect in your interactions with mental health

service providers and what obligations you might have.

 

The guide is available online at http://www.bazelon.org/l21/rightsguide.htm

in both HTML and PDF formats.

 

CAMPUS MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Introduction

Though we don’t know you, and we may never meet you, Campus

Mental Health: Know Your Rights! was created with you in mind. As

a committee of mental health advocates, we worked together to provide

information to assist you in finding help and protecting your legal rights.

Some of us have had direct experience with mental health problems and

know first-hand how little information is available that is tailored specifically

to the needs of students like you.

If you or someone you love has a mental illness or is experiencing

extreme emotional distress, we know that what you’re going through right

now may be extraordinarily challenging. Although mental illnesses are

extremely challenging, they are treatable, and people recover every day.

We hope the information in this guide will enable you to find and use

mental health resources on your campus and to safeguard your rights.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Many college-age students suffer from anxiety, depression and other

mental health concerns. Anxiety is the issue most often mentioned by

college students who visited campus mental health services. Students

also named depression as one of the top ten impediments to academic

performance as well as stress, sleep difficulties, relationship and family

difficulties. In the 2006 National College Health Assessment, 43.8% of the

94,806 students surveyed reported they “felt so depressed it was difficult

to function” during the past year, and 9.3% said that they had “seriously

considered suicide” during the year.

More than 30% of all college freshman report feeling overwhelmed a

great deal of the time—college women, even more (about 38%). In 2006,

more than 13% of college students reported experiencing an anxiety

disorder within the previous year. While anxiety disorders are common for

YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

both genders, women are five times as likely to have them. Eating disorders

affect 5-10 million women and one million men, with the highest rates

occurring in college-age women. Thirteen percent of students reported

experiencing an emotionally abusive relationship in the last school year.1

If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, mood swings, sleep

disturbances, delusions or hallucinations, or if you feel overwhelmed,

immobilized, hopeless or irritable, there is treatment that can help. You

may also benefit from therapy to address common issues such as body

image or low self-esteem, to help with a crisis involving your relationship or

family, or if you are in the middle of a transition, such as beginning a new

school. Students who seek treatment are not “weak” or “crazy.” Therapy is

a hopeful and affirming act of caring for yourself.

Many people have written compelling accounts of their experiences with

mental health issues.2

SEEKING HELP

What can I do? Where do I go? On campus or off?

You should know that, as a college student, it’s easier to get professional

help now than it may be after you leave school. This doesn’t mean you

won’t run into any problems, but now is the time to get help. You’ll find

confidential on-campus resources at your school’s counseling center, health

center and places like a Women’s Center, if one exists on your campus.

Students sometimes feel embarrassed or scared to seek help. Talking

about your problems actually takes an immense amount of strength, yet it’s

important to move past the stigma surrounding mental health issues to get

the help you need.

Often, the best place to start is your school’s counseling center. Visit its

website or call its main number to find out what they can offer you. Most

on-campus centers provide two to eight free visits, so you can use their

confidential services free of charge.

Counseling centers can offer a range of services, from individual sessions

with psychologists or social workers, to group sessions for people who

share a common issue (such as body-image issues, grief and loss, or

academic anxiety), to sessions with psychiatrists. Since services vary campus

to campus, your best bet is to find out exactly what your school offers.

If your school doesn’t have a counseling center, check with the school’s

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health center; mental health professionals may be able to see you there.

Campus counseling centers provide a very valuable service. In addition

to asking about the services the counseling center can provide, you may

want to ask about the confidentiality policy and other school policies that

may apply, such as leave policies, or ask the counseling center or dean of

students about school policies and practices. See pages 14-18 for more

information.

You also want to look into what health insurance you have (if you have

it) and what it covers. (Some plans don’t cover mental health care at all

while others have limits on the number of visits.) If you don’t want to see a

clinician on campus, or if the number of visits your counseling center will

allow you isn’t enough, your insurance policy may dictate what outside

options are available for you. Be aware that if you are on your parents’

health insurance, they may learn that you are receiving treatment from

the insurer. You may want to ask your insurance company about its billing

practices. Even if you have no insurance, there are agencies in most

communities that offer services on a sliding scale. You can find them listed

under “counseling,” “social service agencies” and similar categories. Many

religious groups operate family service agencies that provide a range of

counseling services.

If you choose not to seek services on campus, your school’s counseling

center can be a resource for referral to practitioners and programs offcampus.

You may end up seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist or social

worker in a private practice near your campus or in your hometown. You

can also go to a family doctor to discuss your symptoms, though it is a

good idea that you follow-up with a mental health professional since a

general practitioner is not the most knowledgeable about mental health

issues.

If your school participates in ULifeline, an online resource that provides

information about mental health issues and professional resources on and

around many campuses, you can get additional information at http://www.

ulifeline.org. Your school may have other online services; be sure to check

the school’s website.

What will happen when I call to make an appointment?

When you call to make an appointment at the counseling center, the

receptionist will likely take your name, address, student information (class

year) and ask why you are calling. You may not be asked directly, but if you

are experiencing an emergency, you should say so immediately so you get

in to see a clinician as soon as possible.

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If you are calling an off-campus resource, spend a few minutes talking

with the clinician on the phone, ask about his or her philosophy and

approach to working with patients, and whether or not he/she has a

specialty or concentration. If you feel comfortable talking further to the

counselor or doctor, then make an appointment. If you call a professional

off campus you may not get a return call right away, if you are a new

patient.

Especially if using an off-campus or independent therapist, use this

checklist as a guide to set your goals for a first conversation. Many of these

questions will probably be covered without your asking, but if not, don’t be

afraid to ask.

 What academic qualifications and training have prepared you to

practice as a therapist?

 What specialized training and/or experience have you had in

working with the issue I am dealing with?

 What professional associations do you belong to?

 What are your fees? Can you accommodate me if I don’t have

insurance? Is any payment required at the time of the visit?

 How will my insurance claim be handled?

 What type of therapy do you do (e.g., mostly talking, medication,

role-playing, visualizing, hypnosis, artwork, “body-work”)?

 Can you prescribe medication? If not, what arrangement do you

have for doing so?

 What are your office protocols (booking appointments, payment for

missed appointments, emergencies, etc.)?

 Can you accommodate my academic or work schedule?

 Can you give me a brief explanation as to what I can expect to

happen in my first session?

What are the steps for choosing a therapist?

If you are using on-campus resources, you may be assigned to a

specific clinician based on your intake interview and the strengths of

your counseling center. Most people at campus counseling centers have

experience and genuine interest in working with college students and

regularly work with students who are dealing with similar issues. You may

be seen by a therapist in training. Ask if you have questions or concerns

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about the therapist’s experience. If a specific characteristic in a therapist

is important to you, such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age,

let the counseling center know and they will likely do whatever they can to

accommodate your requests.

If you are not using on-campus resources, the following steps adapted

from an article by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services

Administration entitled “Choosing the Right Mental Health Therapist” may

be helpful:

1. You may want to see your primary care physician to rule out a

physical cause of your problems. If your thyroid is “sluggish,” for

example, symptoms—such as loss of appetite and fatigue—could be

mistaken for depression.

2. Once you know your problems are not the result of a physical

condition, you should find out what the mental health coverage is

under your insurance policy or through Medicaid/Medicare.

3. If possible, it may be helpful to get a couple of referrals (from your

counseling center, friends, online) prior to making an appointment.

If a particular characteristic, such as age, sex, race or religion, is

important to you, you may want to mention that when asking for

referrals.

4. Be sure the psychotherapist takes a unique approach to your

treatment and does not believe that what works for one individual

will necessarily work for another.

5. An important element of successful therapy is rapport. After your first

visit, reflect on how you feel about your therapist.

If you felt comfortable with the therapist, schedule another appointment.

If for any reason the match does not feel right, it is perfectly common to

discuss these concerns openly with the therapist. And, of course, you may

choose to call another mental health professional from your referral list and

schedule another appointment.3

What happens if I call, and they can’t see me

for two, three or four weeks?

If it’s an emergency, you should tell the receptionist right away—just

as you would when making a doctor’s appointment for a physical health

problem. If you say that it is an emergency, they can try to fit you in right

away.

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LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

If it is not an emergency but you still don’t feel comfortable waiting weeks

until your first appointment, ask the person at the counseling center if they

can notify you if an earlier appointment becomes available and if there

are any other resources for you in the meantime—for example, a Women’s

Center, an appropriate person at the health center or a peer group.

Otherwise, you may want to seek off-campus treatment through a clinic or

a therapist in private practice that would likely be able to see you earlier.

While it may be frustrating to have to wait, sometimes waiting is

unavoidable because the counseling center cannot give you the time you

need until they have an opening.

If you are in crisis and need immediate help:

If you are contemplating hurting yourself or attempting suicide, tell

someone who can help immediately:

 Call your doctor’s office.

 Call 911.

 Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

 Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK

(1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a

suicide crisis center, or visit http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html.

The toll-free numbers are available 24 hours a day. (Note that the

goal of these hotlines is to keep callers safe. If hotline staff believe

the caller’s life is in danger, they may tell the police or emergency

medical services.)4

What will happen when I get there? What should I expect

at my first visit? What’s the first session like?

If you have never been in therapy before, then it is natural to feel a little

nervous about what will happen. As a result, the first session can feel pretty

intense. However, it is a good opportunity for you to see whether you feel

comfortable talking with a counselor and think you might benefit from

further sessions on a regular basis.

When you get into the counseling center you will check in for your

appointment just like at a doctor’s office. They may have you fill out a form

about family history, insurance and why you are there, or they may just wait

until you are seen by someone. The waiting room is pretty much just like

every other doctor’s office.

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If you use off-campus services, you may be asked how you will finance

the visit when you make the appointment. When you arrive, you will

be asked for financial documentation, such as insurance cards, who is

responsible for payments, etc. You may be given other documents, such as

the therapist’s privacy policy.

Your first session will be a time for the therapist to get to know you and

your needs and begin to develop a plan to proceed. It can be a little more

basic than later visits, which should be more therapeutic, though it can also

feel very intense if it’s the first time you are talking about disturbing issues.

Therapy is a long-term process, so don’t expect an instant solution on

the first day. The goal is to help you develop ways to deal with issues over

the long term. The first visit will cover what difficulties you are having, any

changes/symptoms in your life, history of these problems in you and your

family, if you are using drugs or alcohol, or are smoking. The therapist may

have time to ask about your childhood, education, relationships, current

living situation and ability to function in school. The questions may seem

invasive and uncomfortable, but remember that this is your therapist’s

chance to learn as much about you as possible to devise the absolute best

treatment plan for you. If you feel uncomfortable answering a question

honestly, let the therapist know; don’t make up an answer—you will only be

hurting yourself and your chances of dealing with the disorder or problem if

you’re not honest.

You may also discuss length of treatment, methods the therapist will use

and patient confidentiality. At the end, the therapist may ask if you have any

questions.

If the therapist believes you are experiencing a mental disorder then he

or she may ask you to complete a questionnaire to determine what disorder

you are experiencing. This is normal and mental health professionals use

these questionnaires routinely. Afterwards, the therapist may give you a

tentative diagnosis. If so, the therapist will discuss treatment options and

may recommend medication or ask you to speak with a psychiatrist, who

may recommend medication (only psychiatrists, other doctors and in some

instances certain other medical professionals can prescribe medication).

You have a right to full explanation of the diagnosis, prognosis, and nature

and consequences of the proposed treatment, including risks, benefits and

alternatives. If you have questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to ask.

Below is a checklist of questions you

will want answered during the first

session. Many of these will probably

be covered without your asking, but if

not, don’t be afraid to ask.

Top 8 Frequently Asked Questions About

Psychotherapy, Psychotherapy 101 Nancy

Schimelpfening, http://depression.about.com/cs/

psychotherapy/a/whatistherapy_5.htm

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LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

 Can you give me a brief explanation as to what I can expect to

happen in subsequent sessions?

 How often will I have therapy sessions and how long will each

session last?

 Do we agree on the goals of my treatment?

 How many sessions is it likely to take to resolve my issue?

 What should I do in case of an emergency?

 How will my confidentiality be assured? If seeing someone on

campus, you may want to specifically ask about whether and under

what circumstances information will be shared with your parents or

the administration (e.g., the dean of students).

Who is licensed to provide therapy?

Many types of mental health

professionals are licensed to

provide therapy. Finding the right

one for you may require some

research. The most common

mental health professionals

are psychiatrists, psychologists,

clinical social workers, licensed

professional counselors, mental

health counselors, certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors, nurse

psychotherapists, marital and family therapists and pastoral counselors.

What are the different types of therapy?

Common types of therapy are psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral

therapy, family therapy, group therapy, psychoanalysis and drug therapy.

You should speak with your mental health professional to learn what may

work best for you. There is no one way for everyone to deal with mental

health issues.53 See box for a description of the different types of therapy.

Depending on the size of your school, your campus counseling or health

center may provide brief individual, group and couples psychotherapy

as well as referrals for students. Long-term, open-ended psychotherapy

and after-hours emergency services may or may not be available through

the school. School counselors are likely available for consultation to both

parents and students, either by phone or by appointment. Parents may want

See Mental Health America for a list of the different

types of mental health professionals and suggestions

for choosing one. http://www.nmha.org/go/help/

finding-help/find-treatment/types-of-mental-healthprofessionals/

types-of-mental-health-professionals

Mental Health America (formerly known as the National

Mental Health Association) 2006.

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to be involved if they have any

questions about services offered,

about how to assist their child

or about how to obtain specific

services on campus or in the

community. While parents may

get information about services

and may share information with

the counseling center, information about a student, including whether they

have sought treatment, is confidential and will not be disclosed to parents

without the student’s consent, except in very limited circumstances. For

more information, see the Privacy section below.

What happens if I don’t like my therapist?

You should feel comfortable with and respected by your therapist. If your

first choice in a therapist isn’t working out, you have the right to choose

another one with whom you have better rapport. Remember, the therapist

works for you and it’s appropriate for you to express any discomfort you

feelin fact, talking it through may be an important part of your treatment.

If you feel the therapist is not listening to your concerns or providing

enough feedback, let him or her know. If it still isn’t working for you, don’t

be afraid to change. Although it’s not easy to end any relationship, it helps

to remember that the therapist is a professional.

The best way to find a good therapist is by word of mouth. Satisfied

customers say a lot about the kind of therapy you will receive. Of course a

therapist who was right for someone else may not always be right for you.

Although you might feel embarrassed to ask friends or family for a referral,

you should consider doing it anyway. It increases the odds that you may

find a therapist who will really help you.

PRIVACY

What are my rights to privacy?

Can a therapist share what I have said during therapy?

All mental health professionals, whether on or off campus, are ethically

bound to keep what you say during therapy confidential unless you

specifically authorize the release of information about your diagnosis

Fact Sheet: Mental Illness and the Family, Mental Health

America, http://www.nmha.org/farcry/go/information/

get-info/mi-and-the-family/finding-the-right-mentalhealth-

care-for-you/mental-illness-and-the-familyfinding-

the-right-mental-health-care-for-you, visited

June 19, 2008

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and treatment. However, therapists may be required to take certain steps

if they believe you might harm yourself or someone else. These steps

could include sending you to a hospital or calling your parents. Also, your

therapist may need to share with your insurer information about your

diagnosis, treatment goals and the anticipated length of your treatment.

And some campus counselors report threats of self-injury or hospitalization

to administration officials.6 You have a right to know about confidentiality

and how information may be shared. Ask your therapist about the limits

of confidentiality and who can be notified without your permission. Some

settings provide brochures describing privacy issues.

Will my parents find out if I seek treatment?

School counseling centers and outside providers generally will not release

your medical information—including to family, parents/legal guardians or

faculty—without your written authorization. However, there are practical

issues. If your parents get insurance statements or bills related to your care,

they will know you are seeing a therapist. Also, as noted above, disclosure

without your consent is permitted to protect your safety and the safety of

others.

School administrators, faculty, disability services coordinators,

resident advisors and other non-clinicians are bound by different

confidentiality restrictions. If mental health information is reported to a

school administrator or disability services coordinator (in the application

process, as part of a request for accommodation or by a mental health

professional in an emergency), the school administrator may be able to

share that information with individuals who the school determines have

a “legitimate educational interest” in the information, as defined by law.7

Those individuals may include the Academic Deans, residential advisors,

counselors, faculty or student judicial services personnel. The school must

provide annual notice to students of the criteria for determining who

constitutes a school official and what constitutes a legitimate educational

interest. School administrators and faculty may also share information

that they personally observe. They may also share information from

your education records with your parents if you are a dependent for tax

purposes.

The law in this area is complex. The federal Health Insurance Portability

and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”),8 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

(“FERPA”)9 and Public Health Service Act as well as state laws may apply to

your situation. These laws may allow disclosure of information without your

consent to other treatment providers, payers of health care, other sources

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of financial assistance, public agencies that oversee treatment providers

and others. These laws may also allow disclosure when you are considered

incapacitated.

If you believe that your privacy rights have been violated, you can file

a grievance within the school or a complaint with the Department of

Education, Family Policy Compliance Office, http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/

guid/fpco/index.html

Given this complexity, you should discuss confidentiality with your

treatment provider to understand if, under what circumstances and with

whom your information will be shared, and how you will be notified if

information is being released.

ACADEMIC ACCOMMODATIONS

What accommodations can I get from the school?

How and whom do I ask for accommodations?

Federal law provides that individuals with disabilities—in general,

those with physical or mental impairments substantially limiting one or

more major life activities—are entitled to academic accommodations

and reasonable modifications in school policies. That means that once

the school is aware of your disability it must take reasonable steps to

revise policies and practices that create obstacles for you because of your

disability.

In general, if you have a mental health problem that substantially limits

you in one or more major life activities (sleeping, working, learning,

speaking, caring for yourself, etc.) even if these symptoms are controlled

by medications or some other form of treatment, or a history of such

a problem, you may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities

Act (ADA). To comply with the ADA, schools must provide academic

accommodations and make reasonable modifications to policies and

rules when necessary to accommodate the needs of students with

disabilities. However, schools need not make such changes if doing so

would fundamentally alter their operations, waive essential academic and

technical requirements or cause them undue financial burden.10

A school also cannot discriminate against a qualified student based

on a disability—for example, by forcing a student to leave because of a

mental health problem if the student meets the school’s basic academic

and technical requirements. Depending on your need, the first place to

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start asking for accommodations is the office of your disability services

coordinator on campus. They will be able to help you with housing,

academics and other accommodations you may need. If your campus

doesn’t have a disability services center, it will still have an individual

named as disability services coordinator. Or you could check with your

resident advisor, academic advisor, counseling center, health center, Dean

of Students office or housing services for what types of accommodations

are available and tell them the types of accommodations you need. Your

request need not take any particular form, but it may be best to put the

request in writing. You may be asked to provide a medical professional’s

statement about your disability, including the nature of the disability and

how it affects your ability to participate in and benefit from the academic

program, before receiving accommodations or modifications. You have a

right to see what this statement says.

If you have trouble obtaining accommodations after contacting the

appropriate people on campus, contact the local or state mental health

department or a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness,

Mental Health America or, if your campus has a chapter, Active Minds.

Local Protection and Advocacy organizations (http://www.ndrn.org) may

provide legal advice about whether you are protected by the ADA or similar

state laws and what accommodations or modifications would be considered

reasonable.

Academic accommodations

Academic accommodations for people with disabilities vary according to

an individual’s particular needs, but include such measures as:

Allowing additional time to complete exams.

Providing a private environment or alternate location in which to

take exams.

Permitting students to use equipment to take exams (e.g., a word

processor or a machine that enlarges print).

Allowing students to audio record lectures.

Providing modified deadlines for assignments.

Reducing course load or providing alternate work assignments.

Providing preferential classroom seating.

Providing early availability of syllabus and textbooks.

Providing transportation services.

Providing access to extracurricular programs.

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Providing orientation to campus facilities.

Allowing excused absences.

Allowing the student to postpone assignments and exams.

Allowing the student to work from home.

Allowing the student to drop courses.

Allowing the student to change roommates or rooms.

Allowing an aide or helper to stay in the student’s room.

Providing retroactive withdrawals from courses if academic

difficulties were due to depression or another mental health

condition.

Providing a leave of absence.

Check with your school to see if these accommodations are available. At

most schools these services are standard and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask

for them. You will likely be asked to provide a mental health professional’s

explanation of why the accommodation is needed. If the school disagrees,

it may request additional documentation or an independent assessment. If

the school does not provide a needed accommodation, you have a right to

file a grievance or a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office

for Civil Rights (see Resources on page 25).11

What can I expect from my school?

Universities and colleges should offer the following:

access to an environment that is civil and non-discriminatory for

study, work and day-to-day living, and

equal access to all university-sponsored programs, activities and

benefits in the most integrated setting, meaning classes, activities

and living arrangements within the general student population

rather than those that are separate for students with disabilities.

If you have a documented disability—whether you are an undergraduate

or graduate student, full- or part-time, in a degree or non-degree program,

enrolled in credit or noncredit courses—you are eligible for services through

the school’s office of disability services or its equivalent. Your school should

inform all students of the identity of the disability services coordinator and

the location of a disability services office if there is one.

All schools that receive federal funds (or enroll students who receive

federal funds) must have a disability compliance officer who is responsible

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for handling grievances involving disability-based complaints. The school

must also have disability grievance procedures that provide due process

protections—notice, an opportunity to present information on your behalf

and an opportunity to appeal—and must provide for prompt resolution of

complaints. Contact information for the disability services coordinator and

the disability grievance procedure should be in your school handbook or

code of conduct.

Your school officials should provide an environment conducive to your

mental health. This includes working to reduce stigma and discrimination;

training staff to better recognize warning signs and assist students with

mental illnesses; reducing barriers to mental health services; adequately

staffing the mental health or counseling center; and maintaining active

relationships with providers in the community who offer care to students. The

school should appoint an individual and implement a coordinating group

with the responsibility and authority to work toward these goals.

As a concerned college student, you should ask these questions of your

Dean of Students or the director of the counseling center:

 Have staff and faculty received adequate training to identify and

provide support for students who have mental illnesses or are

experiencing extreme emotional distress?

 Are mental health services adequately available on your campus?

 Are support services available to families of students who are

receiving mental health services?

 Have students received training and information about how to

recognize warning signs in themselves or others?

 Does your college or university maintain relationships with available

mental health providers in the community?

 Is there an adequate crisis management plan in place for students

and staff to deal with a suicide or traumatic event?

 What are the school’s policies regarding voluntary and involuntary

leaves of absence, involuntary leaves of absence and confidentiality?

All students have a right to review and inspect their educational records.

The educational record includes academic records as well as those in

the offices of the registrar, residential life and student judicial services,

among others. A request must be in writing and may need to be

directed to multiple departments. The school handbook should instruct

you how to request your records. The school must respond to a request

for records within 45 days and may charge a fee for copies. If the

record contains information that is inaccurate, misleading or in violation

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of your privacy rights, you have a right to request that the school amend

its records. If the school does not do so, you have a right to a formal

hearing. If, after the hearing, the school does not amend the record,

you have the right to place a statement in your educational record

about the inaccurate information.

If you believe your school has discriminated against you, you can file a

grievance with the school disability compliance officer. You can also file

a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights

at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html (see the

Resources section on page 25).

How do I generate awareness?

You have an opportunity to take an active role in reducing the stigma

of mental illness by generating awareness on your campus. One way is to

engage your student peers to team up with the school’s campus counseling

services, disability services coordinator, office of student affairs or office

of diversity to increase understanding of mental health problems and the

importance of good mental health. Orientation, May (Mental Health Month)

and the first week in October (Mental Illness Awareness Week) present

particularly good opportunities to talk about these issues on campus. Some

ideas for generating awareness may include:

hanging signs about mental health problems and support services;

presenting about these issues to classes or groups;

organizing mental health information for student orientation

sessions;

using the media (internet, newsletters, etc) to get the word out;

organizing training opportunities for staff and students;

showing relevant movies;

offering free mental health screening;

organizing an event such as a walk or benefit concert supporting this

topic; or

establishing a formal mental health-related student group/club.

You may want to join Active Minds on Campus, a peer-to-peer

organization dedicated to raising awareness about mental health among

college students. There are chapters at more than 100 college campuses

nationwide.

16 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

DISCIPLINE

What should I do if my school wants to discipline me for

something I think happened because of my illness?

You should not be disciplined for seeking help or because of behavior

that is due to your illness. However, in recent years some schools have

responded to students who have threatened to hurt themselves or who

have had mental health crises by taking disciplinary action for violation of

student codes of conduct. Schools may justify such responses as best for

the student or for other students. Also the school may be concerned about

potential danger and legal liability. School administrators may genuinely

believe they are doing the right thing by removing the student or initiating

disciplinary action.

Without knowing what school you attend, we cannot assure you that

you will not be disciplined for any behavior brought on by a mental health

crisis, but we can say it isn’t the policy at most schools. However, you may

want to ask school administrators about your school’s policies.

If university personnel seek to discipline you for something you think was

caused by your illness, they must provide some type of hearing and/or

appeal process. It may make sense at that point to disclose your illness,

if you have not done so already. Obviously, this is a difficult and deeply

personal decision. It also has legal implications, and you may want to

seek legal counsel (see the Resources section below). However, offering

information about your illness might help the school better understand the

behavior they seek to discipline. As a reasonable accommodation, you can

request that disciplinary action not be imposed or that it be modified when

the offense was the result of your mental health condition. If your school

takes extenuating circumstances into consideration in imposing discipline, it

must take your disability into consideration.

It may be helpful to show that, with specific supports, services or

accommodations, you can comply with university rules and/or the code of

conduct in the future. Also, if a university has a policy that charges students

with violation of university rules or its housing contract for engaging in

behavior that poses a risk to life—the student’s own or others’—a student

with a mental illness can argue that an episode such as a suicide attempt

or other self-injury should not subject him or her to the policy. The policy

would be discriminatory when implemented against a student in need of

mental health services whose behavior was a result of mental illness.

If a student is disciplined for violation of a rule that prohibits disrupting

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a class, the student would need to disclose his or her disability and

demonstrate how the disruption was caused by the disability and how it

would not recur with accommodation in the form of appropriate supports

and services.

In general, the more a student can support a claim that his or her

disability contributed to the action, and the more specific the plan for

addressing the behavior, the more likely it is that disciplinary action for

disability-related behavior will be waived.

Once I’m in trouble, must I tell them everything?

While disclosure and sharing information with university staff may be

one way to help them understand your situation and make them less likely

to discipline you, you are not required to provide a blanket release of all

mental health information, nor should you do so. A blanket release could

lead to a search through old records for evidence of past misconduct or

risk to self. Some students reasonably fear sharing information that might

touch on past sexual abuse or information that is otherwise private. You

have control over what information is being released to the school and

you should release information carefully after assessing what is needed to

demonstrate the existence of your disability and the likelihood of your future

success and safety on campus.

To minimize the risk of disclosing something harmful, embarrassing or

hurtful, it may make sense to write a letter disclosing the disability and

to compile a subset of records (such as a doctor’s letter summarizing

the link between the illness and the conduct in question) instead of

signing a blanket or full release. Additional requests for information

from the administration could be addressed through carefully written

releases permitting the university to converse with a specific provider or

providers. Again, how you should proceed will depend on the situation.12

Finding a lawyer (see Resources on page 25) may be helpful to you in

navigating these issues.

18 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

INVOLUNTARY LEAVE OF ABSENCE

Can my school require me to take leave?

In recent years some schools have responded to students who have either

threatened to hurt themselves, been hospitalized or experienced a mental

health crisis by placing them on involuntary leave or by evicting them from

their dormitories. These practices have been legally challenged. As a result,

some legal standards have been developed.

The decision to impose a leave of absence should only be made in the

uncommon circumstance that a student cannot safely remain at a university

or meet academic standards, even with accommodations and other

supports. The same applies to exclusion from university housing, which

should be imposed only if a student cannot safely remain in the housing,

even with accommodations.

A school should impose a leave of absence or require a student to live

off campus only after an individualized assessment. The assessment should

consider whether there is a significant risk that the student will harm him/

herself or another and whether the risk cannot be eliminated or reduced

to an acceptable level through accommodations. Information from mental

health professionals may be vital in making this assessment. If the school

then does decide to act, the student is entitled to what are called “due

process protections.” These include notifying the student of the action the

school is considering and an explanation of why the school believes that

such an action is necessary. The student and his or her representative

should have an opportunity to respond and provide relevant information.

The school may inquire into a student’s current condition and request

recent mental health information and records. But it can only request

information and records that are necessary to determine whether the

student is a threat. The school cannot insist on unlimited access to

confidential information or records. You have a right to limit a release

of information to specific dates, and you have a right to approve and to

review information that is being made available to the school.

At the very least, the school should provide the same arrangements for

withdrawal from classes, incompletes and refunds of tuition or other costs

as it does for a student who takes a leave of absence or leaves college

housing for physical health reasons.

If the school is considering action against you, you can take several steps

that may turn things around. First, you could obtain an evaluation by a

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LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

psychiatrist or other mental health professional. You could suggest ways to

address the school’s safety concerns; for instance, that you be permitted

to take classes but not live on campus. You should proceed with an honest

and earnest tone and manner. However, if the school administration

disregards your efforts to communicate and does not engage in dialogue

with you, it is probably time for you to obtain competent legal advice. If

you are placed on involuntary leave of absence, you should have a right

to appeal within the school. You can also file a grievance with the disability

compliance officer and/or a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (see

the Resources section on page 25).

Can a school put restrictions on my returning from leave?

Students on leave, whether voluntary or involuntary, may request to

return to the school. Similarly, students excluded from housing may request

to return to university housing. A university cannot require that your mental

illness be “cured” before you return.

If you were on leave because of a direct threat to the safety of others or

yourself, you will need to demonstrate that the threat no longer exists. The

school may ask you to agree to receive treatment, including prescribed

medication, before returning. A mental health professional, not the school

administration, should make the decision about whether you need to

continue treatment.

School officials may also ask you to sign a behavioral contract and

agree to various conditions before they will allow you to return to school.

For example, they may ask you to agree that you will leave the campus if

there is another incident of self-injury. Keep in mind that a school cannot

require that a mental illness be cured or that disability-related behavior not

recur unless that behavior creates a direct threat that cannot be reduced

to an acceptable level with accommodations. Therefore, be cautious about

signing a behavioral contract that limits your rights. You may want to

negotiate about the terms of any such contract. For example, rather than

agreeing that the school can make you leave if you try to hurt yourself,

you could agree to seek help if you feel like hurting yourself. These types

of contracts may give you flexibility if the future does not go as well as you

had hoped.

A student who wants to return to school after taking a leave of absence

for mental health reasons should not be subjected to more rigorous

standards or procedures than a student who wants to return after taking

a leave for physical reasons. An opinion from the student’s mental health

professional that the student is fit to return should usually be sufficient.

20 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

In exceptional cases, a school may seek a second opinion.13 The school

may also ask for ongoing access to your mental health provider. In most

cases, once you have demonstrated that you are not a threat, ongoing

contact with your treatment provider is not necessary. However, if you allow

ongoing contact, you may want to limit the communication to verification

that you are attending treatment, without sharing the content of your

treatment.

If your school is placing unreasonable conditions on your return, you

can file a grievance with the disability compliance officer and/or file a

complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (see

Resources on page 25).

GOING TO A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL

How will I be admitted to a hospital?

Most students seeking help—particularly if they seek help early on—will

not need hospital care. But those who do will want to understand what

occurs. There are different kinds of psychiatric hospitals and different

reasons for going there. Some hospitals provide only psychiatric care.

Often general medical hospitals have special units for psychiatric care,

just as they may for cardiac care or pediatrics. Commonly, admission to a

psychiatric hospital occurs either through a referral by a treating healthcare

professional or by way of an emergency room in a general hospital.

Generally, when a student is admitted to a psychiatric unit it is because

of an immediate concern about harm to self or others. Some people are

admitted to better diagnose a mental disorder and treatment needs or for

monitoring as they go through a change in their medication or treatment.

Some seek admission because they’re having trouble coping with life

and want help. And some are involuntarily admitted on an emergency

basis because they are behaving in such a way as to appear dangerous

to themselves or others. In these instances, state laws differ about how

long a hospital can keep people against their willusually from 24 to 72

hourswithout either a court order or the person’s agreement to voluntary

admission.

Here are some basics: When you arrive at the hospital, a mental health

professional will talk to you to determine whether or not you should

be admitted. Hospital staff will probably require you to surrender your

personal belongings and they may search you to be sure that you don’t

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LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

have sharp objects, lighters, drugs or other objects that could harm you

or other patients. If you have a mental health provider, the hospital may

request that you sign a release of information to allow them to obtain

information from that provider. Many hospitals have a memorandum

of understanding with schools in the community in which they agree to

ask students to release information about their admission to the school’s

campus counseling center. You are not required to sign any releases of

information and you have the right to choose what information is released

and to whom it will be disclosed.

If you have made previous arrangements with your psychiatrist or doctor,

the person admitting you will review why you are there and what you may

hope to gain. If you have a crisis plan or a psychiatric advance directive

(see page 23), now is the time to show it or say where to find it.

It’s very important, if you have a history of trauma, such as sexual abuse,

to tell the triage nurse (if you come in through an emergency room) and

other professionals about it. Not only may this information help them better

understand your problems, but some interventions and practices could

be harmful to you as a result of your trauma history. The hospital should

accommodate your needs.

What’s it like? What can I expect?

Going to a hospital for psychological issues can feel scary and difficult.

In our society there are negative images of psychiatric wards. By definition,

hospitalization is a response to a crisis and can be a jarring experience,

even though the “snakepits” with lifelong confinement you may have seen

in old movies no longer exist. Some people are in the hospital to keep

them safe. For others, it is a place of recovery and respite. Particularly for

someone coming from an environment that does not have an awareness

of mental health issues, it also may be the first place to meet other people

who are visibly undergoing severe emotional distress, drug addiction or

other difficult experiences.

Psychiatric units look pretty much like other hospital units, though some

are locked and have other restrictions. On the unit, there are generally

nursing staff, social workers and administrative staff. You will likely be

supervised by staff at all times, particularly when first admitted. If you are

hospitalized because you have suicidal thoughts or attempted to harm

yourself or someone else, you may be placed on special observation. You

have the right to ask how the staff will decide when you will require less

one-on-one monitoring.

22 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

Early on, you will have assessments by various professionals to better

understand your problems and to develop a treatment plan, setting goals

for your recovery and specifications for treatment. In most hospitals, you

will participate in meetings with your treatment team to help formulate

goals and treatment plans and to review your progress. You may say what

forms of treatment you do and do not want.

Most hospitals have systems to encourage people to cooperate with their

treatment plans. There is usually a set time for everyone to wake up, times

for programs in which to participate, times to eat meals, times when you

may go outside and a time to go to bed. The hospital may determine what

visitors can see you and when. A nurse or social worker will work with you

daily and take notes on your behavior in your medical chart. A psychiatrist

will check in on you as well. You may also be offered group or recreational

activities such as painting, drawing, sports, group therapy and so forth.

You have a right to practice your religion and to consult with clergy.

You can expect to have basic privileges while in the hospital, which may

include using the phone, watching TV, using the computer, taking a leave

from the hospital, eating certain foods and having time outside of your

room. Staff may adjust these privileges as they get to know you better and

understand your needs better. Some of these privileges will be affected

by your situation. For example, if you are hospitalized and in an abusive

relationship, the abuser may not be allowed to visit.

In some hospitals, if you don’t participate in the system they have

established, privileges may be modified.

Unless there is a court order or danger of imminent harm, forced

medication is not allowed (see page 24), though laws on this vary by state.

Most hospitals have a patient advocate to resolve grievances and help

you assert your rights. You can request to speak with an advocate at any

time. If you believe your rights have been violated you can file a grievance

with the hospital and the state department of public or mental health.

You can also consult a lawyer (see the Resources section). As difficult as

hospitalization may be, you should expect to be treated with dignity and

respect and to get the help you need after you are discharged.

What happens and what are my rights

after I leave a hospital?

While you are still in the hospital, a social worker will meet with you

to develop a discharge plan that will likely include referral to follow up

treatment. You may be prescribed medications and asked to get your

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LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

prescriptions filled and to stay on the dosage that worked for you in the

hospital. You can ask that the discharge plan include recommendations for

specific accommodations at school, in your dorm or apartment or at work

that will allow you to succeed. In general, your rights after discharge are

the same as they were before you were hospitalized.

After you leave a hospital there should be appropriate services and

supports in the community to help you recover your independence and

pursue your life goals. If you wish, you should have access to appropriate

psychological and psychiatric care. You should receive information about

and have access to alternative treatments and therapies. You should also

have access to emotional supports (see the section below on resources).

You may have access to financial supports, such as Supplemental Security

Income (SSI), if your disability is severe.

You may want to create a psychiatric advance directive (PAD). An

advance directive is a legal document spelling out the health care you do or

do not wish to receive “if an illness renders you unable to make decisions

about your care.”14 In it, you can designate someone to make decisions for

you in such circumstances. An advance directive, whether for health care or

psychiatric services, should also specify the conditions under which it can be

implemented.

You should provide copies to trusted individuals and health professionals

whom you want to know about the PAD. Laws about advance directives vary

from state to state. You can work with a lawyer, paralegal or advocate to

write a PAD or visit the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advance

Directives at http://www.nrc-pad.org and create your own. The site has videos

and easy-to-use information to get you started. Detailed information on

PADs is also available from the National Empowerment Center.

You should provide copies of both types of advance directives—for health

care and for mental health treatment—to trusted individuals and to the

health and mental health professionals who are most closely involved with

your care.

What if I have difficulties after leaving the hospital?

You should seek support, whether through local peer organizations,

trusted mental health professionals, family, friends or other supportive

individuals as soon as you detect that you are having difficulties. If you feel

that you need the support of round-the-clock care, you should discuss this

possibility with people you trust to determine whether this is the best option

for you, and whether you can receive the support you need in a community

setting.

24 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

FORCED MEDICATION

Can I be forced to take medication?

In almost all cases, the answer to this is no. No one can force you to take

medication when you go in for treatment unless you are found to be, or are

on the verge of becoming, dangerous to yourself or others.

In general, states give the power to medicate without consent only to

hospital staff and they must have either 1) a court order permitting it or

2) documentation meeting strict criteria based on safety concerns.15 In the

unlikely event that your doctor seeks a court order for medication, you have

a right to be represented by a lawyer.

Most states have involuntary outpatient commitment (IOC) laws

under which, in certain circumstances, a person can be required to take

medication as a condition of living in the community. A summary of state

statutes (as of 2004) regarding IOC can be found at: http://www.bazelon.org/

issues/commitment/ioc/iocchart.html#statedefs.

What is informed consent?

What are my rights to informed consent?

Informed consent to treatment is consent obtained freely, without threats

or coercion, after appropriate disclosure to the patient of adequate and

understandable information in a form and language understood by the

patient of:

(a) the diagnostic assessment;

(b) the purpose, method, likely duration and expected benefit of the

proposed treatment;

(c) alternative modes of treatment, including those that are less intrusive;

and

(d) possible pain or discomfort, risks and side-effects of the proposed

treatment.16

As a patient, you have a right to an explanation of every procedure or

treatment that a doctor or healthcare professional prescribes. Legally, a

doctor or healthcare professional is responsible for:

1. Disclosing and explaining to the patient, in language which the

patient can understand, the nature of a proposed procedures

CAMPUS MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! 25

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

or treatment, its potential risks and benefits, and reasonable

alternatives, if any exist.

2. Ensuring that the patient understands what has been explained.

3. Determining whether the patient accepts any risks and consents to

proceed.17

RESOURCES

What types of assistance and supports are available?

Every state has a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) program that

safeguards the rights of people with mental disabilities. When problems

arise, the P&A can pursue legal, administrative and other remedies to

ensure protection of your rights. You can find contact information for the

P&A in your state at http://www.ndrn.org.

You also have a right to file a grievance or a complaint with the

Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.18 The OCR resolves

complaints of discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age

or disability. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory

event. You can view some legal decisions and OCR complaints on issues

discussed in this guide on the Students and Mental Health page of the

Bazelon Center website. Complaints based on FERPA may be filed with

department’s Family Policy Compliance Office.19

The National Empowerment Center, http://www.power2u.org, “carry[ing] a

message of recovery, empowerment, hope and healing to people who have

been labeled with mental illness,” has a toll-free information and referral

line and may be able to provide information about support groups in your

area: 1-800-769-3728.

On many campuses there are student-run support groups. Active Minds,

“a peer-to-peer organization dedicated to the mental health of college

students,” is one, with chapters on more than 100 college campuses,

http://www.activemindsoncampus.org. You can also contact local chapters of

Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net, Mind Freedom

International, http://www.mindfreedom.org, the National Alliance for the Mentally

Ill http://www.nami.org, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, www.

dbsalliance.org, the Suicide Prevention Action Network, http://www.spanusa.org,

or the Suicide Awareness Voice of Education, http://www.save.org.

26 YOUR MIND. YOUR RIGHTS.

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

Where else can I go for help?

There are many other people you can talk to or places you can go.

Your campus may have some of the following resources: support groups,

a resident advisor or resident director, coach, faculty member or advisor,

health center, women’s center, LGBT center, spiritual center or Active Minds

chapter. You can also access local mental health organizations such as

those listed under supports above, many of which have state or communitybased

chapters and offer local resources. Some on-line resources include

the Jed Foundation, http://www.jedfoundation.org, http://www.ulifeline.org, www.

halfofus.com, and the National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.

gov, all of which offer information that you may find helpful.

What are alternative approaches to mental health care?

It is crucial to consult with your physical and mental health care providers

about the approaches you are using to achieve mental wellness. Different

treatments work for different people, and communicating with health care

providers about what does and doesn’t work for you is vital.

There are many alternative approaches about which you can educate

yourself to find something that works for you. A short list includes: selfhelp

groups, diet and nutrition groups, pastoral counseling, animalassistance

therapy, art therapy, dance/movement therapy, music/sound

therapy, acupuncture, ayurveda, yoga/meditation, cuentos, biofeedback,

guided imagery or visualization, massage therapy, telemedicine, telephone

counseling, electronic communications and radio psychiatry. A range of

other alternatives—psychodrama, hypnotherapy, recreational and Outward

Bound-type nature programs—offer opportunities to explore mental wellness.

Before beginning any therapy regimen, learn as much as you can about

it. In addition to talking with your health care practitioner, you may want to

go online or to a book store, health food store or holistic health care clinic

for more information. Also, before receiving services, check to be sure the

provider is properly certified by an appropriate accrediting agency.

CONCLUSION

We hope this guide answered most of your questions and we wish you

the best as you continue to learn more about yourself and take care of your

mental health!

CAMPUS MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! 27

LEADERSHIP 21 COMMITTEE of the JUDGE DAVID L. BAZELON CENTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH LAW

NOTES

1 http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA_Reference_Group_

ExecutiveSummary_Fall2007.pdf

2 For example: R. Szabo & M. Hall, BEHIND HAPPY FACES: Taking Charge of Your

Mental HealthA Guide for Young Adults, Publisher August 2007; E. Saks, The

Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, Hyperion, August 2007.

3 “Choosing the Right Mental Health Therapist,” The Substance Abuse and Mental

Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, http://

mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/KEN98-0046/default.asp, visited

Dec. 7, 2006.

4 “If You Are in Crisis and Need Immediate Help,” National Institute of Mental

Health, National Institutes of Health (April 9, 2004), http://www.nimh.nih.gov/

suicideprevention/sui911.cfm, visited Dec. 6, 2006.

5 “Choosing the Right Mental Health Therapist,” Substance Abuse and Mental

Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, http://

mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/KEN98-0046/default.asp, visited

Dec. 7, 2006.

6 Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s Model Student Policy http://www.bazelon.

org/pdf/SupportingStudents.pdf. State law and professional ethics govern release

of information by a mental health treatment provider.

7 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C.§§ 1232g (a) (1), (b) and

(d). See a guide issued by the Department of Education at http://www.ed.gov/policy/

gen/guid/fpco/doc/ferpa-hippa-guidance.pdf

8 See a summary of the federal privacy regulations under HIPPA, with protections for

consumers, at http://www.bazelon.org/issues/privacy/moreresources/index.htm.

See also the guide listed in note 7: http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/doc/

ferpa-hippa-guidance.pdf

9 http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html

10 Reasonable accommodations are modifications to rules, policies or practices that

will enable a student with a disability to meet academic and technical standards.

A school is not required to fundamentally alter the essential nature of its programs

or its core degree requirements. A modification is unreasonable or a fundamental

alteration if it compromises essential academic and technical requirements or

places an undue burden on the school, such as a significant difficulty or expense.

11 See the online complaint form and instructions at http://www.ed.gov/about/

offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html

12 Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law’s Model Student Policy http://www.bazelon.

org/pdf/SupportingStudents.pdf

13 Ibid.

14 http://http://www.samhsa.gov

15 http://www.bazelon.org/issues/restraintandseclusion/moreresources/

randshandout.html

16 United Nations principles for the treatment of persons with mental illness and

the improvement of mental health care, available at http://www.unhchr.ch/html/

menu3/b/68.htm

17 http://info.med.yale.edu/caim/risk/patient_rights/patient_rights_2.html

18 See the online complaint form and instructions at http://www.ed.gov/about/

offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html

19 http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html

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