Mental Health Disorders
Implications for Learning

A black and white photo of a young woman looking downcast.

According to MacKean (2011), an increasing number of students are seeking help for mental health issues. While most people who have a mental health disorder are able to function very well in school and in life in general, mental health issues can have a negative impact on students' ability to participate in a learning experience. Students who suffer from anxiety disorders or depression, for example, may be extremely uncomfortable with requirements to participate in group activities or in oral presentations, and may have difficulty completing assignments that they are otherwise intellectually capable of accomplishing.

Other mental health issues that students experience may be more noticeable to others, and can sometimes adversely affect the entire learning environment. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (2014), interacting with someone who has a mental health disorder can initially be very frightening for others. Some situations, such as when a student experiences a manic or psychotic episode, may involve a student behaving in ways that seem very bizarre or highly out of character for that person. These occurrences can be very frightening to all of the people involved, including instructors, administrators, fellow students, and the affected student. Students experiencing such mental health crises may at times seriously disrupt the learning experience of their classmates, and it is the responsibility of the instructor to do what is necessary to maintain a positive learning environment. Possible interventions include providing referrals to available assistance, and possibly excluding the disruptive person from class until the issue can be addressed.

Common Accommodations

The following accommodations and classroom adaptations are a list of suggested accommodations, but are not comprehensive or exhaustive, nor will all accommodations listed be necessary in all cases. Other accommodations may be implemented based on the individual needs of each student as recommended by your campus Disability Services Office or other professionals.

Common Characteristics of a Student with a Mental Health Disorder Commonly Suggested Accommodations/Classroom Adaptations
Repeated absences or difficulty getting work done. Discuss with student why assignments are late or why attendance has been suffering. Possibly refer student to counselling.
High level of anxiety, possibly evidenced by shaking, tremors, elevated pulse, pressured speech, catastrophizing. Create a classroom environment that reduces stress, promotes safety, and enhances cooperation rather than competition. Do not call on students randomly. Allow students to take breaks if necessary. Allow student choice in terms of assignments. Be encouraging of students.
Gloomy outlook, excessively negative or fatalistic comments. Check in with student. Spend some extra time with him or her. Express your concerns. Create assignments and class activities that help to build a sense of competence, self-determination, and belonging.