An estimated 26.2 percent of all adults in the U.S. have a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Mental illnesses include conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. While mental illnesses can be disabling for some people, others are able to lead full and fulfilling lives despite their illnesses. Some people with mental illnesses need some special assistance in order to succeed, however. College students with mental illnesses may need some reasonable accommodations in order to succeed in school and complete their educations.
Several laws exist that protect college students with disabilities, including mental illnesses. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires any school that receives federal funding (which includes most colleges and universities) to provide accommodations and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary in order for students to participate equally in their educational program. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires employers and educators to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses. People that believe they have experienced discrimination or that their rights under these laws have been violated can contact the Office of Civil Rights at 1-800-421-3481 for assistance.
The specific accommodations needed will vary depending on the individual needs of each student. The student’s physician or therapist can help the student determine what accommodations he should request. Some possible accommodations include providing a quiet area for taking tests that is free from distractions, allowing students time off to attend counseling sessions or doctors’ appointment if necessary, providing written instructions for projects or assignments, providing frequent feedback and positive reinforcement, allowing the presence of a support animal (which in most cases is actually required by law), allowing students to make up time missed due to their condition and providing sensitivity training to instructors and other students as needed.
Students bear the responsibility of requesting any special accommodations they might need. Many colleges have a disability services department or similar department that handles such matters. Students may be required to provide evidence that they do indeed require the requested accommodations due to a disability, such as a letter from their physician or therapist. Schools may have specific forms that must be completed by the student and/or his doctor.
National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/statistics/index.shtml. Statistics.
Office for Civil Rights. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html. Protecting Students with Disabilities.
United States Department of Labor. http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm. Americans with Disabilities Act.
Job Accommodation Network. http://askjan.org/media/Bipolar.html. Employees with Bipolar Disorder.