In a recent Mental Health America survey, seven out of ten students said they wanted their college to provide more education on mental health disabilities and accommodations. A third of students surveyed did not know mental health accommodations were available to them in college.
This finding comes just as many of the country’s 20 million college students are returning to campuses for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — a period that had a devastating impact on the mental health of young adults. For instance, earlier in 2021 the CDC found that 57 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 reported having anxiety or depressive symptoms in the previous week.
Flexibility is key
Mental health conditions like the depression and anxiety these young adults reported are considered disabilities when they significantly impair a person’s ability to function in parts of their life. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities have a right to reasonable changes that reduce barriers to their participation, whether online or in-person.
These kinds of reasonable changes include things like making class recordings available to students when a mental health condition prevents them from attending a lecture. Accommodations can also include flexibility in class attendance and assignment due dates.
Changing the conversation
But the dialogue around these types of changes for those with mental health conditions is limited. Some students don’t know they are an option, others are reluctant to identify as having a disability. The same Mental Health America survey showed 70 percent of students with mental health diagnoses did not register for accommodations, but only 20 percent of respondents said it was because they did not want them.
“As students return to campuses after the mental health challenges of COVID-19, it is imperative that they know about options like this,” said Mental Health America President and CEO Schroeder Stribling, “And their schools should make the information readily available.”
A lack of accommodations can be a contributing factor to students with mental health disabilities dropping out of college. The drop-out rate for students with these conditions is higher than that of non-disabled peers.