Psychological Disorders

Psychological disorders can be roughly divided into several categories:

Anxiety disorders include phobias, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, depression, and manic depression (bi-polar disorder). Anxiety sufferers may have a number of physical symptoms, including shakiness, muscle aches, sweating, cold and clammy hands, dizziness, fatigue, racing heart and dry mouth. Emotionally they may feel irritable and apprehensive. People experiencing depression may experience pervasive feelings of sadness, helplessness or hopelessness and irritability. Other symptoms include problems sleeping or waking, fatigue, headache or other physical aches, memory impairment, and slowed speech and movement.

Anxiety and depression often tend to be cyclical; the individual may feel fine for days or weeks, and then suddenly find the symptoms have returned unexpectedly. For others, the symptoms are continuous and pervasive and may be severe, causing a total inability to function.

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent, affecting over 19 million Americans. Many people diagnosed with mental health disorders are able to lead normal, productive lives with the help of medication and psychotherapy strategies.

Personality disorders include antisocial personality, borderline personality, narcissistic personality, avoidant personality, dependent personality, and histrionic personality. Persons with a personality disorder respond poorly to stress and change and are seriously deficient in their capacity for love and work. To others they often seem disconcerting, obnoxious, or even enraging. Because personality is so pervasive and ingrained, treatment generally focuses on making the person more aware of the way their habits and actions are hurting them, and so reduce the problems created in work and personal relationships.

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders generally begin in adolescence and are more common in females than males. Characteristics include obsession with weight gain or body image, strange eating habits, compulsive exercising, inability to concentrate, tires easily, inability to evaluate reality objectively, moodiness, irritability or social withdrawal.

Psychotic disorders include schizophrenia, delusional disorder, brief psychotic disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and shared psychotic disorder. Schizophrenia, the most common psychotic disorder, will be experienced by over 3 million Americans at some time during their lives. Schizophrenia usually manifests for the first time during the teens or early twenties for men and in the twenties or early thirties in women.

Some individuals have one psychotic episode;others have many episodes during a lifetime but lead relatively normal lives during the interim periods. Less obvious symptoms such as social isolation or withdrawal or unusual speech, thinking, or behavior may precede and/or follow the psychotic episodes.

Substance related disorders refers to a variety of dependencies including alcohol, amphetamine, cocaine, inhalant, nicotine, opium, phencyclidine or sedative dependence. Such substance dependence can lead to a variety of physical and psychological disorders. Physical effects can include impaired reaction time and coordination, respiratory depression, strokes, malnutrition, organic brain damage and damage to other organs. Psychological effects can include loss of concentration, confusion, drowsiness, alterations in memory, impaired judgment, increased aggressiveness, depression, anxiety, and paranoia.


Student with psychological disorders may require intermittent accommodations, or they may need regular adjustments to academic processes, depending on the nature of the disorder. Individual needs vary considerably, but the following are some basic guidelines.

  1. Stress is one factor which is known to trigger or exacerbate psychological disorders. Reducing or adjusting high stress situations is in the best interests of all concerned. Tests, class presentations, timed writings, and even spirited discussions may be stressful to a student with a psychological disorder. Talk with the student about the best way to help him/her feel comfortable with these and other stressful situations.
  2. A student with a psychological disorder may require some adjustments in attendance requirements and/or deadlines. If a student misses class due to his/her disability, he/she will need to recover the missing information. One suggestion would be to have a regular class "recorder" or "notetaker" who is willing to keep audio tapes or notes and make them available when needed. To maintain confidentiality, the notes or tapes should be handled through the teacher. Some flexibility in meeting deadlines for assignments, tests, etc. is also necessary if the student falls behind due to the nature of the disability.
  3. Any unusual or bizarre behavior should be reported immediately to the Student Disability Services office or the CAPS Center. These two departments generally work closely together in serving students with psychological disorders. Please be careful to maintain the student's confidentiality and avoid disseminating any information beyond these two departments.

Psychological disorders are frequently misunderstood and sometimes feared. The greatest difficulty facing the student with a psychological disorder is usually the attitude of others. With proper support, careful management and reasonable accommodations, an individual with a psychological disability should be able to function in the academic environment and meet his/her educational and personal goals successfully.

Student Disability Services does not expect you to change course guidelines or standards.  The purpose of accommodations is to ensure equal educational opportunity.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call Student Disability Services.