Students with psychiatric disabilities have experienced significant emotional difficulty that generally has required treatment in a hospital setting. With appropriate treatment, often combining medications, psychotherapy, and support, the majority of psychiatric disorders are cured or controlled. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five people in the United States have some form of psychiatric disability, but only one in five persons with a diagnosable psychiatric disorder ever seeks treatment due to the strong stigmatization involved. Below are brief descriptions of some common psychiatric 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, insomnia, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Eighty to ninety percent of people with depression experience relief from symptoms through medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Depression is a variable condition that may fluctuate during a person’s lifetime.
- Bipolar disorder (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.
- 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.
- It may seem like today there are more people with psychiatric disabilities, but in reality, more people are seeking treatment outside the walls of state mental health institutions.
Instructional Strategies for Faculty
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.
- Spend extra time with the student, when necessary, and assist the student with planning and time management.
- Students with psychiatric disabilities have good reason to fear the reactions of others, given the lack of understanding and stigma about psychological disorders in our society. Make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their psychiatric disabilities to you. As with any student with a disability, don't press students to explain their disabilities if they do not wish to do so.
- Some flexibility goes a long ways with deadlines.
- For disability-related reasons, students may need to miss class or even to leave the room in the middle of the class. The students will be responsible for the content of any lectures missed, but they will appreciate your understanding and any assistance with filling in the gaps.
- Allow the student to tape-record lectures.
- Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams, and when assignments are due; provide advance notice of any changes.
- When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her in a one-on-one conversation or e-mail at an appropriate time (not in the middle of a lecture slide etc.).
- Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).