Ask Meaghan: Addressing mid-semester health concerns

My name is Meaghan and I’m the Student Advocacy Resource Coordinator with the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University. I have so much to tell you about self-advocacy!! Through this bi-weekly series, #AskMeaghan, my goal is to answer any questions you may have about this crazy-little-thing-called-UNIVERSITY ♫ (see this video to sing along).

I feel like my health concerns are spiralling out of control and I might not be able to finish the semester. What can I do?

Our physical and mental health can be a challenging thing to juggle while simultaneously attending classes amongst balancing other areas of life (family, friends, work, etc.). Maybe your pet elephant was sick and you needed to care for it. Maybe you got into a trapeze accident. Maybe you’re convinced your unicycle professor is discriminative* against you and is grading you lower than you think you deserve and it’s affecting your overall wellbeing.

I’ll stop clowning around here – this isn’t Circus University; however, these examples do illustrate exactly the kinds of challenging circumstances people face (well, maybe not exactly). Life happens. Loved ones, or we ourselves, can become injured or ill. Our mental, physical, and/or emotional wellbeing may be impacted. And when these things come up for us, our priorities shift; school can be the last thing on our minds during these times. That’s why we here at the Student Advocacy Resource Centre have options to share with you.

There’s something called Withdrawal with Cause which may be beneficial for you this term. Don’t be confused with my last blog post about withdrawals as this is whole other ring of fire.

Withdrawals with Cause can be a safety net to catch you if you fall off the tightrope (again with the circus analogies…really?). It’s actually an apt analogy – if I do say so myself – because being a student is like walking on a tightrope. It’s a balancing act and life throws us off balance sometimes. To clarify (because the circus analogy and puns are a bit too in-tents), you can apply for Withdrawals with Cause (WC) if you have encountered medical or psychological difficulty during your school term and it has impacted your abilities as a student.

*If you do feel that this is the case, we encourage you to either make an appointment with us or the Human Rights Advisor at the Campus of Equity and Meaningful Inclusion Office.

What steps do I take if I think I’m eligible for a Withdrawal with Cause and want to apply?

First, let’s talk deadlines. You can apply for Withdrawal with Cause (WC) at ANY point during a semester up to the last day of classes. For this term, that day is April 5th, 2019. Along with a Withdrawal with Cause form that you can pick up from the Registrar’s Office, you must provide supporting documentation with this application. This needs to be a letter from a medical professional such as a physician or counsellor that states why your medical and/or psychological condition is preventing you from completing the semester.

Additionally, there is a small box on the form where you can describe your circumstances for requesting a WC. Instead of cramming everything into this little box, some students choose to write “Please see attached”, and attach a letter to their submission. (Pro tip: our team at the Student Advocacy Resource Centre can help you with edits to your narrative and can give you constructive feedback). A letter may provide context as to what you’ve been experiencing during the term and why it has impacted your ability to complete your class(es). Don’t have the time or the energy to write a letter? That’s okay! Attaching a narrative to your form is not required. If you need a little bit of help getting started, check out our template here.

What kinds of things does a medical letter need to include?

Remember, this needs to be a letter and not chicken scratches on a prescription pad or sticky note. It’s generally helpful if the physician describes your experience of serious illness (without naming the illness itself), or if the mental health professional (i.e. counsellor) describes the experience of emotional distress, without the label of, for example, “depression”. This protects your confidentiality and also removes potential stigma/judgements/knowledge that decision-makers potentially have about certain diagnoses, while providing a clinical opinion of the severity of what you experienced. It’s important to note that at the point that you start experiencing difficulty, or sooner (if it’s something you know you seasonally struggle with) to start seeing a mental health professional either on-campus or off-campus. Seeing a professional over a period of months increases the likelihood that the professional will be willing to write a letter on your behalf, in support of withdrawal with cause. The fact that you’ve met with a professional once, who may not know anything about you, does not obligate the person to write a medical letter in support of your experience.

Have more questions about the WC process? Feel free to pop on over to the Student Advocacy Resource Centre. We’re always willing to help!

How to submit your questions to Meaghan:

Get involved today and #AskMeaghan to discover how you can become a #SAMRUselfadvocacy champion! Submit your questions by using the #AskMeaghan hashtag on social media or email me directly at m.paturel@samru.ca. I’m in the Student Advocacy Resource Centre (Z303) in Wyckham House from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm but feel free to pop by during drop-in hours from 12 to 2 pm on weekdays. The Student Advocacy Resource admins or myself would be happy to help you!

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