What is a mental illness?

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"Mental illness" refers to the collection of all diagnosable mental disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, relating, and/or functional behaviors. It can result in a substantially diminished capacity to cope with daily life demands.

A mental illness is a hidden disability; it is rarely apparent to others. However, students with mental illness may experience symptoms that interfere with their educational goals and that create a "psychiatric disability." These symptoms may include yet are not limited to the following:

  • Heightened anxieties, fears, suspicions, or blaming others
  • Marked personality change over time
  • Confused or disorganized thinking; strange or grandiose ideas
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Extreme highs and/or lows in mood
  • Denial of obvious problems and/or a strong resistance to offers of help
  • Thinking or talking about suicide

For more information on mental illness and typical accommodations for students with mental illness, consult Academic Accommodations for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities.

Last update or review: January 24, 2013