The term "psychological disabilities" covers a wide range of conditions and may include (but not be limited to) chronic conditions such as severe personality disorders, psychoneurosis and psychosis.
People with severe psychological disabilities have some structural and biochemical characteristics in their brains that are different from those of people who do not have a mental illness. Psychological disabilities are usually, although not always, a chronic condition. It is important for those around this person to realize that this type of disability is biological and not "a matter of choice." With appropriate treatment, the vast majority of psychological disorders are effectively cured or controlled. Treatment, which often combines medications and psychotherapy, can effectively stop acute symptoms in 80% of those living with schizophrenia, end the terror of phobic disorders, and halt the downward spiral in approximately 90% of those living with depressive disorders.
Problems related to providing educational support services to students with a history of mental illness are founded in the misconceptions and stigmas about the illness. Common myths about psychological disabilities often cause college faculty and staff to be reluctant to approach students realistically because of fears that the students are very fragile or could be violent. In reality, people with mental illness do not commit more violent crimes than the rest of the population. Although comparatively few students with psychological disabilities may react to stress by becoming agitated or even threatening, faculty who are aware of this kind of disability report that incidents of disruptive behavior by individual students can often be predicted, and, therefore, prevented.
Dealing with Disruptive Behaviors When They Occur
Most students with psychological disabilities never draw attention to themselves by behaving disruptively. Few, because their symptoms are more persistent and/or cyclical, may experience periods in which "holding it together" becomes more difficult. Disciplinary issues should not be confused with mental health issues. All students, including students with psychological disabilities, have the responsibility to meet the college Code of Conduct by adapting behavior to the educational environment. If disruptive behaviors persistently occur or a student code of conduct is violated, the issue should not be defined as a health issue. It should be defined as a disciplinary issue, and a referral to the college disciplinarian should be made.
Suggested Modifications for Students with Psychological Disabilities
The Disabled Student Services staff may help students with psychological disabilities to identify and explain their functional classroom limitations, such as difficulty with oral presentations, or the need to accommodate side effects of medications (e.g. thirst, itching, agitation, frequent trips to the bathroom, etc.).
Providing services for students with psychological disabilities on campus is a relatively new phenomenon. However, based on existing knowledge and experiences, the following may be needed by students:
- Assistance with orientation/registration/financial aid forms
- Assistance in choosing classes and instructors
- Extended time for exams or a distraction-reduced exam environment.
- Note takers, readers, tape recorders
- Modification in seating arrangements
- Beverages allowed in class to manage medication side effects
- Possible flexibility in the attendance requirements of a course in the case of hospitalization/crisis
- Incomplete or late withdrawals, rather than failures, in the event of prolonged illness-related absences or crisis
- Time management and study skills assistance.
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