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Teaching Students with Psychological Disabilities

Some students have psychological disabilities such as depression, bipolar disorder, or severe anxiety. Psychological disabilities complicate many areas of life, including education.

Every case is different, but there are some commonalties in the academic experiences of students with psychological disabilities. These students report difficulties with focusing, concentrating, and completing work in a timely fashion. Reading, writing, and math may require extra effort and more time. Ability to function effectively may vary from day to day; in response to stress, students may experience an increase in symptoms. Medications help with some symptoms of psychological disability, but medication side-effects (for example, drowsiness or headaches) can contribute to a student's academic problems.

We suggest that you review our suggestions about learning disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; a number of these suggestions will also be appropriate for students with psychological disabilities. Following are some suggestions specifically addressed to the needs of students who have psychological disabilities.

  • Psychological disabilities are not well understood and accepted in our society, and many students with psychological disabilities have good reason to fear the reactions of others. Please make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their psychological disabilities to you. Don't press students to explain their disabilities if they do not wish to do so; with the consent of the student, SDS disability specialists can provide you with further information.
  • Understand that for disability-related reasons, these students may sometimes have to miss class, or even leave the room in the middle of a class. The students will be responsible for the content of any lectures missed, but they will appreciate your helping them to fill in the gaps.
This section adapted from University of California, Berkeley Disabled Students’ Program