Psychiatric Impairments

Case Studies | Q&A's | Resources

Psychiatric or mental health impairments range from mild depression to chronic disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Negative stereotypes and the fact that these disabilities are typically "invisible" further complicate making accommodations for students with these disorders.

Students with mental health or psychiatric impairments can be affected in several ways. They may be more susceptible to the common stresses of college life, involving academic demands as well as interpersonal relationships and living alone or away from home for the first time. Students may have problems receiving, processing, and recalling information during times of stress.

Side effects from medication may also impact attention, memory, alertness, and activity level. The episodic and unpredictable onset and recurrence of illness can also interrupt the educational process, as well as performance in student positions on campus.

Individuals with psychiatric impairments may be treated with a combination of medication, counseling, and therapy. There are a variety of mental health support services available on many campuses. Students with psychiatric impairments may need to build time into their schedules for therapy and/or supportive services.

Accommodations for students who have mental health impairments include

  • early notification of deadlines for projects and assignments to reduce stress
  • flexible attendance requirements
  • an encouraging, validating, service and work environment
  • availability of a quiet work area
  • material available in electronic format
  • web page or email distribution of materials and notes

Check Your Understanding

Suppose you have a disruptive student in your campus service office who has a history of mental health problems. What should you do? Choose a response.

  1. Discuss the problem with the student in the service area.
  2. Lower your behavioral standards because the individual has a disability.
  3. Discuss the behavior standards privately.
  4. Inform the student of behavioral expectations.
  5. Obtain advice from the disabled student services office.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Discuss the problem with the student in the service area.
    Keep the conversation confidential. Discuss the issue and behaviors with the student in private.
  2. Lower your behavioral standards because the individual has a disability.
    No. Do not lower your behavioral standards.
  3. Discuss the behavior standards privately.
    Yes. Schedule a private meeting.
  4. Inform the student of behavioral expectations.
    Yes. Clearly identify parameters of your office behavioral expectations.
  5. Obtain advice from the disabled student services office.
    Yes. Gaining advice, guidance, and support is helpful. Staff in this office have experience with students who have various types of disabilities and will be able to suggest appropriate strategies for dealing with this situation.

For frequently asked questions, case studies, and promising practices, consult the searchable Knowledge Base in The Conference Room.

Specific Student Services

For a student with psychiatric impairments, needs vary greatly by individual and by the student service accessed. For more information consult the DO-IT publication Academic Accommodations for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities.

Specific challenges and access solutions for the specific student service offices are highlighted in the following areas of The Conference Room: