Written by: Emily Peterson, MS, LPC-IT

The holidays are over and college students will soon be starting their spring semester. Some students may reflect on the previous fall semester and create goals or make changes in how they approach their education. This could also be a good opportunity to think about how your mental health has influenced your academics.

Did you know that neuropsychiatric disorders (neurological, mental, and behavioral disorders) are the leading cause of disability in the United States (National Institute of Mental Health, 2018)? Mental and behavioral disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and ADHD have become more and more common in today’s world. I have seen this trend reflected in college settings during my time as a Graduate Assistant in a disability resource center.

College is often a time of exploration, development, and change for many young adults. Most colleges and universities have departments that focus on ensuring the success of their students. In order to provide equal access to students with mental and behavioral disabilities, many colleges have a department that helps students land on the path to success.

Disability resource centers typically follow the American with Disabilities Act (2010), or ADA, to ensure they are providing the best services for students. It is not unusual for accommodation advisors to request documentation stating your mental and behavioral disorders, and/or other disabilities. This will inform them on which accommodations may be the best fit while you are in college.

As you may know, mental and behavioral disorders may present differently from person to person. One person with ADHD may not have the exact same problems as another person with ADHD. Although your accommodation advisor may follow a guideline of “typical” accommodations they provide students, it is important to have a one-on-one meeting with your accommodation advisor to ensure they understand your challenges and needs in order to be successful. Some useful accommodations for student with mental or behavioral disorders include: extended test time, use of music while testing, or audio recording lectures.

If you have previously had an Individualized Education Plan, IEP, or 504 Plan in high school, you may or may not receive some of the same accommodations at the college level. Although it is your right to be provided accommodations for your disability, some accommodations in high school are more relaxed than in the college setting. For example, extended deadlines on homework, ability to retake exams, and excused absences from class may not be within the disability resource center’s purview to grant you. These would be additional accommodations you could discuss with you professor; however, it is unlikely they will grant these as they may go against the fundamental purpose of the course.

College students may have mental or behavioral disorders that precede starting college, or they may emerge during the course of your college studies. Regardless, your mental health may have a large influence on your academic achievement. If you have been struggling with your mental health or academics, there are resources out there that may help you succeed in your educational goals!

Sources: United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (2010). Americans Disability Act Title II Regulations. Washington, D.C.