Self-Advocacy and Your Rights

If you run into obstacles at school—especially around issues of health, mental wellness, and advocacy for yourself and others—it’s good to know your rights and have resources on hand.


College is an ideal time to learn how to advocate for yourself and, whenever possible, on behalf of others. What does self-advocacy mean? One example might look like this: You arrive at school only to find that it doesn’t provide accommodations necessary for your (or other people’s) abilities. Ensuring access to resources for the whole student body and its staff is the school’s responsibility. 

If you find yourself in this guide before you begin school, then it may be worth reaching out to ensure the school provides support and accommodations for mental health needs. NAMI provides tips for parents, but students can benefit from reading this content as well.

If you are living with a mental health condition, then talking about it with others will help you feel less alone and also help you connect to the right treatment or support. But there are other reasons to discuss mental health concerns in personal, academic, and professional relationships. 

  • If a mental illness or something you are struggling with is having a negative impact on those relationships, then talking about it may improve the situation. 
  • In the case of academics, talking to your professor or adviser about challenges related to your emotional health may enable you to get certain accommodations that will be helpful.

But it’s important to know when and how to disclose, and, in the case of academic and professional settings, who to disclose to.

HIPAA and FERPA: Acronyms You Should Know

If you seek medical help for your mental health at college, then you should know how your health information is protected and what your options are for sharing health information with your parents or trusted adults. 

If you are 18 or over, then health privacy and confidentiality laws protect your health records. These laws safeguard your information, but they can also prevent colleges from contacting your parents if you are facing significant challenges or a serious mental health concern. Of course, parents or a trusted adult may be important sources of support if you experience challenges, especially at the onset of a mental health condition or if an existing condition worsens or results in hospitalization.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are two pieces of legislation written to protect you and your privacy around issues of health. At school you may encounter the acronyms HIPAA and FERPA if you ever find yourself in a medical center on or off-campus. JED has a detailed guide to student mental health and the law.

Mental Health College Guide
Mental Health College Guide

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If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress:

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