5.10 Understanding Psychological Disabilities

One in every ten persons in the United States has some form of psychological disorder with varying degrees of severity. Psychological disturbances are grouped into a number of categories including psychoses, mood, organic brain syndromes, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Psychological disabilities can easily be "invisible". Students may have psychological disabilities that are not easily detected. A common psychological disability among college students is depression, whether long-standing or temporary in nature. Anxiety is another prevalent psychological disability among college students and may also be a reaction to stress.

  • Some students may show fluctuations in behavior and academic performance, particularly as a reaction to changing medications, although this does not excuse disruptive behavior in the classroom.
  • Be aware that levels of support needed by the student may fluctuate; many psychological illnesses are episodic.
  • Ask what support the student may need; the student is the expert on what accommodations will make a difference.
  • Understand the facts about the disability. Do not pre-judge or assume that a student is unmotivated or lazy.
  • Discuss any inappropriate behavior with the student privately and forthrightly, delineating the limits of acceptable conduct.
  • Exams can be particularly stressful for a student with a psychological disability; speak ahead of time with the student about appropriate expectations and strategies.
  • Testing in a quiet, distraction-free environment may be appropriate, and can be arranged with OSWD.
  • Allow extra time for tests and complicated assignments.
  • Assist the student with time-management and study skills.
  • Encourage the use of relaxation and stress-reducing techniques during exams.
  • Remember to maintain the student's confidentiality.