There is little doubt that I did not have a “typical” adolescence and educational experience. My mental health went downhill at the early age of 13 and my whole world was turned upside down. My family and I were essentially focused upon my very survival, and education became a very distant secondary concern. However, in between hospital intakes and visits, I did manage to graduate from High School with honors and am now studying at University. It was not easy however, and would not have been possible if my school and University had not put appropriate modifications and accommodations in place to support me. Unfortunately, I have seen a great number of people who are struggling with their mental health who drop out of school and do not go back. I find that concerning as their future potential is being limited through no fault of their own. If you are experiencing one or more mental health conditions and are finding school or college difficult…you are not alone! Please see your guidance department, student support services and your psychiatrist to ensure your school is offering appropriate accommodations to you so the barriers which are preventing you from receiving and education are lifted. Below I have listed some typical academic accommodations which can transform your educational experience from the impossible to the possible.
1. Preferential Seating:
You can arrange for preferential seating to meet your unique needs. This can be a seat at the front to reduce distractions. It can also be a seat at the back near the door so a quick exit can be made if there is an impending crisis. Everyone is different and unique.
2. Frequent Breaks:
Many individuals will require frequent breaks and the ability to get up and move around. This often helps reduce stress and anxiety and can help some people refocus.
3. Peer Tutor/Peer Note-Taker:
This can be very helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Mental health conditions often come with difficulty concentrating and mutitasking. This academic accommodation can let someone focus and participate in lectures while someone else compiles the notes.
4. Peer Support Worker:
Having someone “in your corner” and sitting with you, walking with you and speaking up for you if needed is quite helpful. Peer advocates can be a very powerful accommodation.
5. Reduced Workload and Extra Time:
Extra time and a reduced workload can be exceptionally helpful for someone having difficulty with their mental health. The assignment criteria and content do not need to be modified…just the amount. This allows the student to complete grade level content without being completely overwhelmed.
6. Alternate Setting:
individuals who are having severe social anxiety, panic attacks or even psychotic breaks, may need an entirely alternate setting. In some cases home study may be the only option and this should be supported.
7. Drinks Allowed in Class:
Some medications have the direct side effect of excessive thirst and dry mouth. The simple accommodation of allowing the individual to have beverages in class can address this concern.
8. Alternate Assignment Format:
Once again, this can be done to meet individual needs. Assignments could be presented verbally, they could be scribed or they can be presented on audiotape or powerpoints.
9. Test/Exam Accommodations:
A number of measures can be taken to accommodate in regards to tests and exams. An alternate setting (different room) can severely reduce anxiety. The exam can also be chunked into segments with supervised breaks and an alternate format such as verbal answers and scribing can be utilized.
10. Assistance During Hospital Intakes:
I do believe this is one of the most important accommodations and is also where people tend to get lost. Often students will all of a sudden seem to “disappear”, when in reality they have been admitted to the hospital to treat their mental health conditions. It is critically important that a student is able to stay connected to their studies. To end up withdrawing from studies or receiving a failing grade due to hospitalization is not acceptable. Nobody would be refused a medical accommodation for a physical illness such as cancer, and this should likewise apply to mental health conditions.
As I have mentioned, the mental health academic accommodations will vary greatly from person to person. These are a list of 10 accommodations which I have used and seen utilized very effectively. An individual should work with their mental health team (which includes the school or college) to request and implement appropriate academic accommodations. Remember that the institutions will want documentation. Mental health conditions should never be a barrier to receiving an education.