Psychiatric Impairments

Case Studies | Q&A's | Resources

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 several ways. They may be more susceptible to the common stressors 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 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. Often, there are a variety of mental health support services available on campus. A student with a psychiatric impairment may need to build time into his schedule for therapy and/or supportive 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 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.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Discuss the problem with the student during class.
    No. Disability-related information is confidential. Discuss behavioral issues with the student in private.
  2. Lower your behavioral standards as a disability-related accommodation.
    No. Do not lower your behavioral standards.
  3. Discuss the behavior standards privately.
    Yes. Arrange for a private meeting.
  4. Inform the student of class behavioral expectations.
    Yes. Clearly articulate classroom behavioral expectations.
  5. Obtain advice from the disabled student services office.
    Yes. Gaining advice, guidance, and support is helpful. Staff in the office have experience and will be able to suggest strategies.

Accommodation needs of students with psychiatric impairments vary greatly by individual and by academic activity. Specific academic activities that may pose challenges and suggested accommodations in each area can be found in the following resources: