The Importance of Proper Mental Health Accomodation for College Students

Students during Dr. Gail Baura's engineering class in Cuneo Hall on Loyola's Lake Shore Campus during the first week of class, August 26, 2015. (photo by Natalie Battaglia)

College is no joke. School in general is no joke. But can you imagine taking organic chemistry with untreated ADHD? Loyola’s 7-Day Unlimited Meal Plan with Binge Eating Disorder? Manic depressive episodes before classes with strict attendance policies?

These are the fears that college students with mental health conditions face. Mental illnesses affect 26 percent of Americans over the age of 18, according to Active Minds, a Loyola organization dedi- cated to ending the stigmas associated with mental illnesses.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 64 percent of college students drop out due to mental health reasons. Active Minds also reports that more than half of all college students have had suicidal thoughts. With this many college individuals suffering, why is it still so difficult to find help?

Upon my acceptance to Loyola, I researched the effectiveness of its Wellness Center. As a sufferer of mental illness, I wanted to be aware of my options.

I asked the individuals at the Wellness Center booth at the orientation resource fair if it was possible to receive counseling on campus.

Convenient therapy minutes from my dorm room sounded too good to be true, and it was. I was more than confused to discover that it was only a one-time use. The man I spoke with, however, said that the Wellness Center could help me get in contact with a counselor in the area who took my health insurance.

My parents and I were ecstatic over this news. That is, until I started calling the Wellness Center every day for a week straight, getting no answers.

Receiving accommodations for mental health issues can be extremely important for academic success. These can range from priority registration and supplemented testing time to medical leave without loss of an academic scholarship.

Thirty-eight percent of students are not aware of the accommodations offered for mental health by their university, according to NAMI.

I only discovered the work of Services for Students With Disabilities (SSWD) office when a friend discussed it with me. SSWD aims to give students with “documented disabilities” the access to an “accessible learning environment,” according to Loyola’s mental health help website.

However, 57 percent of NAMI survey respondents did not access their university’s accommodations for their conditions due to the “burdensome” process.

Loyola’s process requires documentation such as prior educational records and diagnostic reports from psychiatrists or other doctors. An “intake form” is also needed with requested accommodations and basic health information.

While this information is not the hardest in the world to obtain, many health care providers never seem to have the time to write a letter about various diagnoses or email it to an address they might forget or lose.

Once these records are given to SSWD, it is reviewed by a Disability Specialist. Upon reviewing the documentation, a representative will contact the student to meet with an SSWD staff member to discuss the accommodations they have requested.

I understand that accommodations need to be appropriately and accurately given to students with specific diagnostic criteria, but the process could be condensed for efficiency.

Rather than take both an intake form and a letter of referral from a medical doctor, a doctor could easily sign off on information at a monthly check-up.

This relieves stress off a doctor, the individual reviewing the information and the one with a mental health disorder.

When one third of all college students report suffering from mental health issues, mental health conditions need to be taken seriously and dealt with effectively and efficiently.

I’m hoping to receive modifications for the fall semester. It has taken me all of my freshmen year to obtain the diagnostic reports from my doctors and to finally be able to request help in my courses.

Although Loyola is far more accommodating than other institutions, there are ways it must improve. Such changes hold the ability to affect the mental health of the entire student body, along with the Rogers Park community as a whole.

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