How does mental illness affect
the way I function at school?
Mental illnesses may interfere with your ability to function at school -- or
they may have no effect at all. If your mental illness is affecting your ability
to do things such as concentrating or communicating effectively, you're probably
aware of it. Then again, you may not have made the connection between your
disability and your problems functioning. Under Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, educational personnel only need to provide
accommodations for limitations that can be directly connected to your
disability. You should document the types of functional limitations caused by
your disability to show your need for academic adjustments.Here's a list of some
of the limitations you may be experiencing. If you have a psychiatric
disability, you may have trouble doing some of these things.* Please remember
that since that are many different types of mental illnesses, this isn't a
complete list -- and that not everyone experiences all, or even any, of these
limitations. Here's how you might cope:
Inability to screen out
environmental stimuli. Stimuli such as sounds, sights, or smells,
which distract you. For example, it may be hard for you to pay attention to a
lecture while sitting near a loud fan or to focus on studying in a high
Possible solutions: Move away from the fan; ask the
professor to shut off the fan during the lecture; ask someone to help you find
a quiet study area.
Inability to concentrate:
You may feel restless, have a short attention span, be easily distracted, or
have a hard time remembering verbal directions. For example, you may have
trouble focusing on one task for extended periods, reading and retaining
course material, or remembering instructions during an exam or a classroom
Possible solutions: Break large projects into smaller tasks;
ask permission to take short, frequent breaks to stretch or walk around; ask
for a tutor to help you with study skills and information retention; ask for
assignments to be given one task at a time or in writing.
Lack of stamina.
You may not have enough energy to spend a full day on campus, carry a full
course load, or take a long exam in one sitting. You may also find your
medication makes you drowsy.
Possible solutions: Enroll as a part-time student; schedule
your classes during your high-energy hours; ask to take exams in sections.
Difficulty handling time
pressures and multiple tasks. You may have trouble managing
assignments, setting priorities, or meeting deadlines. For example, you may
not know how to decide which assignments to do first, or how to complete
assignments by the due date.
Possible solutions: Break larger assignments and projects
down into manageable tasks; ask for a course syllabus detailing class topics,
assignments, and due dates for the entire semester.
with others. It may be difficult for you to talk to other students,
gett notes or discuss assignments, participate in class, meet students outside
of class, chat with other students at class breaks, and make friends.
Possible solutions: Ask for help finding a mentor or "buddy"
who can introduce you around and help you fit in.
negative feedback. You may have a hard time understanding and
interpreting criticism. For example, you may get defensive when someone tells
you your work isn't up to standards. It's hard for you to figure out what to
do to improve. You might want to withdraw from class or even drop out of
school because of a poor grade.
Possible solutions: Ask your professor to talk with you about
your performance and suggest specific ways to improve; find out whether you
can make up for poor grades with alternative assignments or extra credit
projects; ask your professor to meet with you and your school's disability
services counselor to facilitate feedback.
Difficulty responding to
change. Unexpected changes in your coursework, such as new
assignments, due dates, or instructors, may be unusually stressful for you.
Possible solutions: Ask your professor for advance warning of
any changes in the syllabus; ask your school's disability services counselor
to be sure to tell your new instructor about your needs.
*Adapted from Mancuso, L.L. (1990)
Reasonable accommodations for workers with psychiatric disabilities.
Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 14(2), 3-19
© 1997, 1998
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University