Issues and Answers in the Classroom
On this page, you'll find a number of common issues faced by students with mental illness, and some answers we've suggested. If you have another potential solution, or a issue you'd like us to address, please visit our discussion group and tell us about it!
Issue: Because your psychiatric disability prevents you from holding a job, you can't make your student loan payments. Defaulting on your loans prevents you from getting further financial aid.
Answer: Call the guarantor agency for the state in which the loans were taken out and ask for a form to document a severe disability. If a psychiatrist will document your disability, the loans will be forgiven/waived.
Issue: Your symptoms make it difficult to take notes while listening to a lecture.
Answer: Use a notetaker or tape recorder, or borrow notes from someone in class.
Issue: Anxiety makes it difficult for you to participate in class as required.
Issue: You can't afford your medications.
Answer: Advocate for additional financial aid.
Issue: You need to carry a full courseload in order to qualify for a degree program, but you can't handle full-time enrollment.
Answer: Ask the school to declare that your part-time enrollment is equivalent to full-time enrollment because a part-time courseload is as much work for you as a full-time courseload would be for a student without a disability.
Issue: Your doctor changes your medications, and your condition deteriorates significantly, negatively affecting your ability to do your coursework.
Answer: Tell your doctor you're unhappy with the change and want to return to your previous medication. If necessary, ask your therapist to advocate for you.
Issue: You suffer from extreme test anxiety.
Answer: Ask the instructor for an alternate testing format.
Issue: The medications you need to control your symptoms diminish your alertness, concentration, and energy level.
Answer: With the help of your doctor, adjust the type, amount, and timing of your medication to minimize side effects.
Issue: Your symptoms or medications affect your memory.
Answer: Keep a calendar -- or, better yet, use a calendar program on your computer -- to remind you of assignments, exam dates, meetings, etc.
Issue: Lines, crowding, and anxiety-producing bureaucracy make registration and other administrative tasks intimidating and difficult.
Answer: Find out how much can be done online or by telephone. Many institutions now have technology offices dedicated to creating alternate methods of registering, selecting housing, choosing classes, etc.
Issue: You're in the hospital during an important exam or final.
Issue: Symptoms interfere with your coursework to the point where you can't complete the class, which jeopardizes your financial aid and academic standing.
Answer: Try to negotiate a grade of "Incomplete" rather than a "Withdraw" or "Fail" grade. An "Incomplete" usually means that you will not have to repay or retake the entire course in order to finish it; a "Fail" or "Withdraw" usually means you lose the money you've paid for the class and have to take it again from the beginning.
Issue: You tell a professor you have a disability, and the professor asks for details.
Answer: While the professor may be well-meaning, you aren't required to disclose specific details about your disability. You can simply say that the support office has documentation of a valid disability on file.
Issue: You lack access to a computer and computer skills, which puts you at a disadvantage when doing schoolwork.
Answer: Community-based education, such as adult ed programs, can provide computer education at reduced cost.
Issue: Lack of transportation makes it hard for you to get to class on time.
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Rehabilitation, Boston University
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