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A doctor gives a lecture about mental health

A mental illness can be considered a disability.

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Psychiatric Impairments

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Psychiatric or mental health impairments are broad and 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 many ways. They may be more susceptible to the common stressors of school involving academic demands as well as interpersonal relationships. Students may have particular 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.

Individuals with psychiatric impairments may be treated with a combination of medication, counseling, and behavioral therapy. A student with a psychiatric impairment may need to build time into his schedule for therapy and/or support services.

Accommodations for students who have mental health impairments include:

  • Notetakers.

  • Early notification of projects, exams, and assignments to reduce stress.

  • Flexible attendance requirements.

  • An encouraging, validating, academic environment.

  • Alternative testing arrangements in a quiet room.

  • Assignments available in electronic format.

  • Web page or electronic mail distribution of course materials and lecture notes.

Check Your Understanding
Suppose you have a disruptive student in your college class who has a history of mental health problems. What should you do? Choose a response.

  1. Discuss the problem with the student during class.

  2. Lower your behavioral standards as a disability-related accommodation.

  3. Discuss the behavior standards privately.

  4. Inform the student of class behavioral expectations.

  5. Obtain advice from the disabled student services office.

Further information on accommodating students with psychiatric impairments can be found in the DO-IT publication Academic Accommodations for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities.