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Functional limitations due to mental illness can impact academic performance.

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Psychiatric Impairments Case Study

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Sally and College Studies: A Case Study in Accommodating Psychiatric Impairments

My name is Sally and I'm a 22-year-old student with Major Depression and Anorexia Nervosa. I attend college full-time and need disability accommodations to help compensate for low mood, fatigue, bouts of anxiety ranging from mild to severe, and very low energy and motivation. I want to excel in my classes but my illnesses interfere.

Access Issues
I am stabilized on my psychiatric medications, which help my mood and eliminate thoughts of self-harm, but I experience morning fatigue as a side effect so early morning classes are difficult for me. Depression and eating disorders also affect my cognition by decreasing concentration, short-term memory, and problem-solving skills. I am very critical of myself and often don't have enough confidence to talk in class. If I do speak in class, I always feel I'm being judged so I withdraw.

I don't have an obvious disability like some people, and maybe it would be easier to see I need help if I did. Teachers don't usually know how to help people with mental illnesses because they don't understand them. Sometimes I even feel that getting special accommodations is cheating in some way. I get frustrated because I really want to succeed in college and I know I'm not stupid.

The office of disabled student services helped me to see that getting accommodations is not cheating-that I need them to compensate for my mental illness disability. I usually do as well as other students when I am in a positive, encouraging environment and receive the accommodations of extended time on tests, and notetaking assistance (to make sure I don't space out and miss anything), as well as Support Services such as communication opportunities via e-mail and class electronic discussion lists, and tutoring-especially for math and science work.

This case study illustrates that:

  1. Mental illness is a disability and students with mental illness can benefit from a range of accommodations.

  2. The disabled student services office can help students with mental illness determine specific accommodations that are appropriate for them.

  3. It is sometimes important that the student effectively communicate the functional limitations of a psychological disorder in order for the instructor to understand access issues.