Earlier this month, the Washington Post announced that a new report on the state of mental health in the United States shows “alarming” increases in depression in young adults. Estimates suggest that the number of young adults with suicidal thoughts is approaching 10 million. Yet, the reported numbers only reflect those who have been diagnosed with major depression. Research by the American Psychological Association indicates that one in three college students suffers from a mental health disorder. These, and many more, silently contemplate suicide.
Our practice is dedicated to defending students accused of misconduct. We travel nationwide representing students in Title IX sexual misconduct proceedings and talking to scared students and parents whose reeling families cannot fathom the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Each of their stories is unique; but all have a common thread: miscommunication about consent. Some students think they had consensual drunken hook-ups; others chatted through a dating app, met in in person, and then had sex. All reported being shocked to learn that their partner’s perception of the evening was opposite. Either way, allegations led to students being faced with serious academic consequences. Or worse, they found themselves in court facing charges of rape, risking years of imprisonment and placement on a sex offender registry. While many students are exonerated, their lives are never the same. Many young adults speak of lasting mental health struggles. In the most tragic of these of these cases, their struggles led to violence against themselves.
What impacts us most as professionals and mothers is witnessing the long-lasting effects depression can have on these students. Many young adults require hospitalization after having attempted to take their own lives. A majority have difficulty comprehending how they are going to make it through the process, and most feel utterly hopeless about their future. As lawyers, all we can do is represent our clients zealously, listen, try to offer some solace, and help create a plan for the future.
Sexual assault claims and the Title IX process can be life-altering for everyone involved. Victims require and should receive support and accommodations. But, so should those who have been accused. For students who suffer from depression and anxiety, the following steps may be appropriate:
- Register with the school’s office of disability services. This step is simple and often overlooked by students and their families. To register for services, a student will be asked to provide supporting medical documents with a diagnosis.
- Conduct an interactive process regarding the need for accommodations. This means that a school should utilize a collaborative process of consulting with the student. Such a process includes, conducting an individualized assessment of the student to determine whether and what accommodations can be made to allow the student to participate in and benefit from programs and activities at the school.
- Reduced workload and additional time. Students often have a difficult time juggling their academic course load and the demands of participating in a Title IX process. When this happens, students should consider requesting a reduced workload and extra time to complete all necessary coursework.
- Active participation by a student advisor. Currently, most school policies do not allow student advisors to speak during conduct hearings. However, many students experience such overwhelming anxiety that they simply cannot communicate effectively during the Title IX process. This is so especially during hearings, which can leave students particularly vulnerable as they are unable to advocate for themselves. When this occurs, students should make a written request to their school asking that their student advisor be able to take a more active role in the process. This request is essential because many schools relegate student advisors to “potted plants” in the interview and hearing processes.
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