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Student Life

Your Mental Health Rights in Higher Education

Unfortunately, many students experience mental health-related discrimination in higher education. Whether it is being pressured to take a leave of absence, being kicked off campus, or receiving denials for documented disability accommodations, it can be confusing to figure out what your rights are and what you can do about it.

Below you can learn more about your rights, mental-health-related discrimination, potential next steps if you believe your rights have been violated, and opportunities to connect with others with shared experiences.


Know your rights

  • Know Your Rights Guide: This guide is for students with mental disabilities or students experiencing distress in a higher education setting. It provides information about finding support at school, requesting accommodations, addressing involuntary leaves of absence and disciplinary measures, and many other topics. If you have not already done so, we recommend finding your school’s student handbook or policy guide and taking any remaining steps to appeal adverse decisions or denials. 

  • Frequently Asked Questions: Quick questions and answers about which laws protect the rights of higher education (including graduate) students with disabilities. 

  • Joint Department of Justice/Department of Education Fact Sheet: This provides the basics on the rights of students with disabilities, including examples of the kinds of discriminatory incidents these agencies can investigate. 

  •  Watch this webinar on students’ rights and schools’ responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act; how the Department of Justice and courts have ruled on these rights and responsibilities; and best practices schools can use to support students with mental disabilities. The slides for the webinar can be found here


Learn about other campus examples

  • If you are interested in learning more about the kinds of legal actions that have been filed against universities due to disability discrimination, these review these resources on campus mental health - a collection of policy documents, past litigation, and other legal actions taken by Bazelon and other civil rights organizations/agencies. These documents might be useful to reference when advocating with your school. They might also help you to understand how federal agencies may view your complaint.


Identify who may be able to help

  • Disability Services: If you have not already done so, contact your disability services department on campus. This office may have other titles with words like accessibility, inclusion, or access. They can often provide support and help you explore your options, including communicating with professors and explaining campus processes.

  • Student Advocacy Groups: Depending on your campus, you may also have student organizations focused on disability advocacy that can provide support and guidance. You can typically find these groups in a list or database of campus clubs. 

  • Protection & Advocacy organizations (P&A) are a federally-mandated system of disability rights organizations, located in each state, which provide legal representation and other advocacy services to people with disabilities. You can contact your local P&A for additional information and support at this link. 


File a complaint

  • If you believe your civil rights or the rights of another, have been violated, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The portal for filing this complaint is linked here.  

  • You can also assess whether your complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights through the portal linked here and/or file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the portal linked here. 

  • Upon receiving a complaint of discrimination, agencies may take several steps, including but not limited to, contacting you for more information, referring you to another agency or organization, starting a mediation or investigation, or informing you that they cannot move forward with the complaint. Please note that your school cannot retaliate against you for filing any complaint of discrimination. 


Find community

Unfortunately, many students face this difficult process with little to no support, and colleges and universities often do not face any consequences for their actions even when students follow through with this process. To find peers with shared experience, gain support, and help change this environment for students, there are several organizations you can get involved with.

  • Project LETS  is a peer support collective that advocates for students and student rights.

  • Neurodivergent U is a social and disability justice organization dedicated to advocating for disabled and neurodivergent students in higher education. 

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