In the Classroom
It is important to remember that when students with mental health disorders are admitted to the University, they have met the same rigorous standards for admission as all other students. Below we have highlighted ways in which faculty can support the continued success of students with mental health disorders as recommended by the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSWD). For more information, refer to their faculty handbook.
Like all students, those with mental health disorders may benefit from well-organized teaching and classroom management practices. Best practices include:
- Approaching each student with an open mind about his/her strengths and abilities
- Clearly delineating expectations for performance
- Delivering feedback on performance, both positive and corrective, in a timely and constructive fashion
- Making yourself available to consult with students during regular office hours and through contact by telephone and email
- Demonstrating flexibility and fairness in administering policies and assignments
Some students with mental health disorders may need to take more frequent breaks, have food and drink with them in class (to counter the side effects of medications), and/or use testing accommodations, such as extended time or a distraction-free testing environment.
Mental health disorders as disabilities
A mental health condition is a diagnosed mental illness or disorder that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It is important to note that a mental health disorder in or of itself does not necessarily constitute a disability. Many mental health conditions can be controlled using a combination of medication, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes so that they do not “substantially limit” a student's productivity and success in the academic environment.
You can show your support for all students with disabilities, including those with mental health disorders, by including a statement such as the following in your syllabus. You may read the statement in class as you discuss the syllabus:
“Any student who feels that she/he may need an accommodation for any sort of disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours.”
This approach indicates the willingness of the faculty member to provide assistance while preserving students’ privacy. You may also choose to include the contact information for Counseling and Psychological Services on your syllabus, as well as the information for this website: www.campusmindworks.org.
At the beginning of the semester, ask your students to let you know if their attendance, their participation in class, or their ability to complete an assignment on time will be affected because of a disability.
It is essential that information about disabilities, and all mental health information, be kept confidential. At no time should the class be informed about a student’s condition, except at the student’s request.
Request for Accommodations
Because symptoms of mental health disorders vary broadly, as does the level of impairment experienced by each person at any one time, it is impossible to list accommodations that will work for all students with mental health disorders. For a student to request intervention on their behalf through SSWD:
- The student must contact SSWD and provide documentation that clarifies that she/he has a mental health condition that qualifies as a disability.
- Recommendations for accommodations must be written in a student’s verification letter created by SSWD.
- The student is then responsible for delivering a copy of this letter to each instructor from whom she/he is requesting accommodations.
If a student is requesting accommodations but has not presented you with a verification form from SSWD, you may ask the student to contact SSWD.
SSWD does not ask that instructors modify essential course requirements for the sake of the student. Any faculty member considering denying an accommodation because it modifies an essential course requirement should consult with SSWD or the ADA Coordinator. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the student’s verification form, contact the authorizing staff person whose name appears on the form.
If a student is struggling but has not provided you with a verification letter, you may choose to discuss your concerns with him/her in private and, if needed, make a referral to the SSWD office or to Counseling and Psychological Services.
It is sometimes assumed that students will seek help when they are struggling with a class. But for a number of reasons, students do not always feel comfortable asking for help. Remember that a change in grades or an increase in absences is not always due to a mental health disorder. The following examples illustrate how to maintain high but realistic expectations for all students:
- If a student earns a C or lower, inform the student of the need for a meeting to discuss his/her performance.
- If a student is absent, show concern about his/her absence when he/she returns by asking if things are all right.
- If there are repeated absences, request a meeting with the student to discuss the situation.
- If you are concerned that the student’s grades or absences reflect a more serious problem, refer to UHS’ asking students about health concerns.
You may find yourself in a situation where you notice a marked change in a student’s demeanor that may include inappropriate or disruptive behavior. The Psychological Clinic provides suggestions for how you might respond to such behavior.
In addition, see the following excerpt from The Faculty Handbook (8.D.7):
If a faculty member encounters a student who is behaving in a disruptive or dangerous way in a classroom or other University setting, he or she needs first to determine if there is an immediate threat of violence or other dangerous situation or emergency. If so, 911 should be called promptly, usually by someone else so the faculty member can remain in charge of the class. If there is not an emergency situation, the faculty member should try to calm the immediate situation, dismissing the class if necessary, and then seek assistance from:
- the department chair,
- the dean's office,
- the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel (764-0304),
- and/or the Department of Public Safety at 763-3434
If a student exhibits disruptive behavior over a period of time, faculty may wish to call the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (764-5132) to discuss the appropriateness of a Mental Health Advisory Committee review. This is a confidential process that will result in a recommendation to the Vice President. Other support services include:
- Counseling and Psychological Services (764-8312)
For assistance in determining how to best help a student who is experiencing serious psychological difficulties
- The Office of Student Conflict Resolution (936-6308)
For more information if you believe a student’s behavior may be in violation of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities
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