Psychological Disabilities

Students with psychological disabilities have experienced significant emotional issues that generally have chronic symptoms and are being 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. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one particularly debilitating anxiety disorder in which a student's repetivite thoughts or behaviors, which others might consider not relevant to the task at hand, interfere with their ability to complete assignments. Many students with OCD are particularly affected when writing, erasing/deleting words and sentences almost immediately after writing them. 


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 should 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 or violent 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.