This is a dilemma more than a few parents face each year. In any given semester, 10-15 students take medical leave, and the majority of them do so for mental/emotional reasons. These reasons vary from severe, unremitting homesickness to anxiety and depression, to even more severe breakdowns. Often students don’t report the severity of their situation to their families until the effects of their problems are irreversible, such as significant academic underperformance. While some students beg their parents to let them come home, others resist leaving school even when it is the only reasonable alternative.
If your student appears to be having a lot of trouble adjusting to college life or complains of psychological or physical symptoms that don’t improve in two or three weeks, it may be time to explore the options available to him or her. In particular, if a student is severely depressed to the point where he/she is missing a lot of classes, is getting much worse grades than what should be expected, is crying a lot, losing weight, mentions suicidal thoughts, etc., it’s time to encourage him or her to act.
On the parent’s part, an easy first step would be to contact the Resident Director (RD) of your student’s building. You can express to the RD the concerns you have, and the RD can follow up with your student. Usually, the RD can circle back to the parent with any observations and recommendations.
Part of what the RD may recommend would be for the student to see a counselor at the Engle Center. We will assess the student’s situation and make recommendations for him or her. At the least, we will encourage the student to begin counseling and, perhaps, have a medical evaluation which may include a recommendation for medication. Occasionally that will include the step of taking medical leave. If the counselor believes medical leave is the best alternative, the counselor or student will contact the parent to discuss what that involves and what steps are needed.
If a student is unwilling to see a counselor, you may be left alone to help your student decide what course of action to take. In that case, we recommend that you call the Engle Center and speak with the Director. You may speak with another counselor if the Director is unavailable. She will inquire about the various areas of the student’s life and make recommendations for the next step. Often, she will have suggestions for others the student may talk to that are less intimidating than going to the Engle Center. Finally, she will make recommendations regarding the possibility of medical leave. She will encourage you to read the policy, which is found here.
Medical leave is not for every circumstance, of course, but it has advantages that are often quite attractive to a student and his/her family when they are in the midst of a crisis. We would be glad to discuss your child’s situation with you at any time. Many parents have questions about confidentiality and the Engle Center. We are bound by law to live within certain constraints. To summarize, any information a student provides to a counselor is considered confidential; to disclose this information to anyone outside the Engle Center requires the written permission of the student.
Exceptions to this involve circumstances where there is a risk of harm to the student or another person. That said, there is no problem with a parent calling to discuss his/her child and provide us with information. When it is important that the parent be involved in such cases as medical leave, the counselor or parent can ask the student to sign a release allowing us to discuss the options for that student.
These situations can be very distressing to students and their families. Please remember that we are here to help, and will do everything we can to provide the best alternatives for your student.