Psychological Disabilities

Students with psychological disabilities have experienced significant emotional issues that generally have chronic symptoms and have been treated professionally. With appropriate treatment, often combining medications, psychotherapy, and support, the majority of psychological disorders can be controlled. The National Institutes of Mental Health estimates that one in five people in the United States have some form of psychological disability, but only one in five persons with a diagnosable psychiatric disorder ever seeks treatment due to the strong stigmatization involved; thus, these students may be particularly reluctant to approach professors.

Brief Descriptions of Common Psychological Disabilities

A major disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood most of each day, a lack of pleasure in most activities, thoughts of suicide, sleep problems, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Bipolar disorder (formerly manic-depressive disorder)
Causes a person to experience periods of mania and depression. In the manic phase, a person might experience inflated self-esteem and a decreased need to sleep.
Anxiety disorders
Can disrupt a person's ability to concentrate and cause hyperventilation, a racing heart, chest pains, dizziness, panic, and extreme fear.
Can cause a person to experience, at some point in the illness, delusions and hallucinations.

Considerations When Working with Students with Psychological Disabilities

  • Most psychological disabilities are variable conditions that may fluctuate during a person's academic career and lifetime. As such, flexible accommodations and arrangements will need to be considered for these students.
  • Trauma is not the sole cause of psychiatric disabilities; genetics may play a role.
  • Psychiatric disabilities affect people of any age, gender, income group, and intellectual level.
  • Disruptive behavior is not an attribute of most people with psychiatric disabilities.
  • Eighty to ninety percent of people with depression experience relief from symptoms through medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.

Common Accommodations for Students with Psychological Disabilities

  • Reduced-distraction test environment
  • Extended time on tests
  • Permission to record lecture
  • Note-taker

Instructional Strategies for Students with Psychological Disabilities

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams, and when assignments are due; provide advance notice of any changes.
  • Spend extra time with the student when necessary, and assist the student with planning, breaking up assignments, and time-management.
  • Allow the student to record lectures.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note-taker (if included as one of the student's accommodations).