Enhancing Accessibility in Post-Secondary Education Institutions
With advances in medications, treatment and the increasing empowerment of those with mental health disabilities, students with mental health disabilities are increasingly able to access and complete post-secondary education. However, those with mental health disabilities often experience difficulty accessing services and accommodations that suit their needs due, in part, to the episodic and “invisible” nature of their disability, the stigma surrounding mental health disabilities, and the fact that accommodation for mental health disabilities is a relatively new practice.
Most university and college campuses have counseling services which offer a variety of information and services for those with mental health issues. However, most of these offices support students on a short-term, emergency basis, focus on the student’s personal health, and are not meant to provide academic accommodations.
While many students do suffer from bouts of anxiety, stress or depression that can be handled through short-term counseling, more and more students are arriving on campus dealing with serious mental health disabilities such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders or self-injury that require a more holistic and long-term approach.
The following are some promising practices from PSE institutions on how to address services for students with mental health disabilities:
- Students with mental health disabilities often require both academic accommodations and medical or therapeutic treatment. For this reason, it is extremely important to facilitate collaboration between disability services and counseling services regarding these students as individuals with mental health disorders who present at one can quickly and easily be referred to the other when necessary. Additionally, having someone directly responsible for case management for these students is very valuable.
- It is also important for disability services and counseling services to establish their roles and responsibilities regarding students with mental health disabilities. While some roles may be clear, others may not be or may overlap. Establishing a joint policy or advisory committee may help clarify responsibilities.
- For institutions with larger populations of students with mental health disabilities, consider establishing a stand-alone Mental Health Disabilities Office to handle the accommodation and support of students with mental health disabilities.
- Students with mental health disabilities will undoubtedly have varied needs with no “one-size fits all” solution. This is why it is important to have staff knowledgeable about mental health disorders, treatments and appropriate accommodations. If possible, hire disability service staff with specialized knowledge and experience and have them deal exclusively with students with mental health disabilities. This includes qualified counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
- Have a psychiatrist on campus for appointments one or two days a week if it is not possible to hire a full-time staff psychiatrist.