How many of you Woroni readers can tell the difference between someone having a psychotic episode and someone being in a dissociative state?
Reading this you may ask yourself why you should have to know. Sadly, it is because while in 2015, the former could get you terminated from an ANU hall and the latter had limited repercussions, the ANU administration’s new 2016 policy allows them to effectively wash their hands of any student with prolonged mental health conditions.
It is a policy vaguer and thus more terrifying for those of you who still reside in college. If you reside in Toad, Fenner, Burton & Garran, Ursula or Bruce Halls your place as a student is precarious. I believe that in response to the lack of accommodation on campus that administration has purposefully endorsed views and a policy that makes it okay to discriminate against mentally ill university students, with procedures that can ultimately hurt those who could be considered vulnerable.
What has triggered my investigation into this policy is instead from the recent death of one of my friends. I feel deeply and terribly for this student’s family and other friends. While the situation is genuinely horrendous it has led me to consider how policy can largely affect how one copes with mental illness, and how policies such as the new ones, I have discovered at the residential colleges, that have been put in place will only contribute to the psychological distress of others.
Students tell the administration about their friends out of concern, but how can an administrative judge this to be a fair representation? One problem, for example, derives from the fact that I suspect the majority of people cannot tell the difference between psychosis and disassociation – and this is before noting that aspects such as suicidal ideation are common amongst those who aren’t considered mentally ill. Ultimately, this policy ensures that students will keep quiet about their problems and issues, and misinformation can be easily disseminated by those who care about the student in distress the most, their friends.
A lot of these policies take agency away from the student in question. Whilst ANU Counselling seems like a good idea, the service is not equipped for serious matters such as these. Counsellors can be assigned to you, so you may get one that only works on Fridays for example; I have found that if you have a crises any other day the service actively limits your ability to see someone. Rather they prefer you to be attended by one counsellor, this makes sense on the basis that one person should be in charge of your care. Being sent to the Counselling Service often lends this idea that mentally ill people cannot be in charge of their own care. I think in conjunction with this service colleges should be provided with lists of mental health specialists who bulk-bill, and other groups in the ACT people can attend beyond using emergency services such as the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team.
Finally through some vague measurement that is yet to be revealed in this handbook if your disability possesses a ‘significant burden’ – of which the parameters have yet to be explained – on the hall they have the right to terminate your occupancy agreement. If your psychological distress exists for an extended period of time, you may be subjected to this termination.
The first step of the termination is to alert how your illness impacts the other residents and the operation of the hall. This seems to be a little too late to alert someone about the impact of their illness on others, and honestly, it will end terribly, with students becoming resentful of one another, and being unable to communicate. If another student informs the administration that your illness is impacting them out of concern for them and yourself, the administration does not have to relay this information to you until it is too late. Secondly, the Hall discussing your situation with others makes me wonder if you would be allowed to participate in any of these discussions.
A whole group of people, some of which you have never met, will get to decide whether the Hall can accommodate you. I can see many problematic things occurring. How much weight would a medical expert you are seeing hold over the Dean of Students for example? What evidence should you need to submit? Why is agency taken away from the student? Another thing I could see being a problem would be if you had a highly stigmatising condition, a condition that when mentioned makes everyone think of Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction (for those who do not know, the female stalker who murders a rabbit, kidnaps a child and almost kills Michael Douglas’ character) because it is the only example of your condition the media provides. Revealing such information to that many people, in a situation beyond your control, would be extremely terrifying.
Ultimately, if the ANU colleges do not review these policies I seriously question the safety of hundreds of residents on campus this year.