Issues and Strategies in the Classroom


On this page, you’ll find a number of common issues faced by students with mental illness, and some answers we’ve suggested.


Issue: Because your psychiatric disability prevents you from holding a job, you can’t make your student loan payments. Defaulting on your loans prevents you from getting further financial aid.

Strategy: Call the guarantor agency for the state in which the loans were taken out and ask for a form to document a severe disability. If a psychiatrist will document your disability, the loans will be forgiven/waived.


Issue: Your symptoms make it difficult to take notes while listening to a lecture.

Strategy: Use a note-taker or tape recorder, borrow notes, or ask a class member to email them to you.


Issue: Anxiety makes it difficult for you to participate in class as required.


  • Plan specific points to make in class and rehearse them in advance. Even if you aren’t spontaneous, you’ll at least be participating.
  • Ask for an alternative assignment, like a paper, to bring up your grade.


Issue: You can’t afford your medications.

Strategy: Advocate for additional financial aid.


Issue: You need to carry a full course load in order to qualify for a degree program, but you can’t handle full-time enrollment.

Strategy: Ask the school to declare that your part-time enrollment is equivalent to full-time enrollment because a part-time course load is as much work for you as a full-time course load would be for a student without a disability.


Issue: Your doctor changes your medications, and your condition deteriorates significantly, negatively affecting your ability to do your coursework.

Strategy: Tell your doctor you’re unhappy with the change and want to return to your previous medication. If necessary, ask your therapist to advocate for you.


Issue: You suffer from extreme test anxiety.

Strategy: Ask the instructor for an alternate testing format.


Issue: The medications you need to control your symptoms diminish your alertness, concentration, and energy level.

Strategy: With the help of your doctor, adjust the type, amount, and timing of your medication to minimize side effects.


Issue: Your symptoms or medications affect your memory.

Strategy: Keep a calendar — or, better yet, use a calendar program on your computer — to remind you of assignments, exam dates, meetings, etc.


Issue: Lines, crowding, and anxiety-producing bureaucracy make registration and other administrative tasks intimidating and difficult.

Strategy: Find out how much can be done online or by telephone. Many institutions now have technology offices dedicated to creating alternate methods of registering, selecting housing, choosing classes, etc.


Issue: You’re in the hospital during an important exam or final.


  • Ask for the test to be faxed or mailed to the hospital, proctored there, and sent back.
  • Ask if you can take a make-up test when your hospitalization is over.


Issue: Symptoms interfere with your coursework to the point where you can’t complete the class, which jeopardizes your financial aid and academic standing.

Strategy: Try to negotiate a grade of “Incomplete” rather than a “Withdraw” or “Fail” grade. An “Incomplete” usually means that you will not have to repay or retake the entire course in order to finish it; a “Fail” or “Withdraw” usually means you lose the money you’ve paid for the class and have to take it again from the beginning.


Issue: You tell a professor you have a disability, and the professor asks for details.

Strategy: While the professor may be well-meaning, you aren’t required to disclose specific details about your disability. You can simply say that the support office has documentation of a valid disability on file.


Issue: You lack access to a computer and computer skills, which puts you at a disadvantage when doing schoolwork.

Strategy: Community-based education, such as adult Ed programs, can provide computer education at reduced cost.


Issue: Lack of transportation makes it hard for you to get to class on time.


  • If public transportation isn’t available, explore ride-sharing with other students (by forming a carpool or joining an existing one).
  • Check with local psychosocial clubhouses to see if they have transportation resources.

NOTE: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations.