Issues and Answers in the Classroom

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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.

Answer:

bulletPlan specific points to make in class and rehearse them in advance. Even if you aren't spontaneous, you'll at least be participating.
bulletAsk for an alternative assignment, like a paper, to bring up your grade.

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.

Answer:

bulletAsk for the test to be faxed or mailed to the hospital, proctored there, and sent back.
bulletAsk if you can take a make-up test when your hospitalization is over.

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.

Answer:

bulletIf public transportation isn't available, explore ride-sharing with other students (by forming a carpool or joining an existing one).
bulletCheck with local psychosocial clubhouses to see if they have transportation resources.

 

 

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1997, 1998 Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University

January 27, 2006

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