As mental health problems become less stigmatizing, more college students are comfortable asking their professors for test extensions and excused absences due to bouts of depression and panic attacks.
Schools say they are seeing a rise in the number of students registering with their disability offices due to psychological problems. At Pace University in New York, the number of requests for accommodations from students with disabilities related to psychological disorders tripled in the last three years according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
But there’s hand-wringing among university administrators and faculty about how to support college students with mental health issues while making sure young adults progress academically. One of the goals of college, after all, is to prepare students for the working world. And not every boss may be OK with a blown deadline for a critical client report, no matter the reason. Professors also want to make sure they’re being fair to all students.
Some formal accommodations, like additional test time, are fairly standard across universities and apply to students with physical and learning disabilities, too. But, schools diverge widely on formal accommodations for flexibility with assignment deadlines, class attendance and participation. Some schools leave it up to individual instructors. Others intervene more directly on students’ behalf.
Back-to-school = back-to-stress?
As the demanding school year draws near, many teens begin to experience higher stress levels. Here are tips from Pace’s Dr. Richard Shadick as to how you can help your teen get a handle on stress before it wreaks havoc on their psyche.
“Often teens feel stress about the start of the school year because their schedule is quite different during the summer,” says Richard N. Shadick, director of Pace University Counseling Center and adjunct professor of psychology, in Myrna Beth Haskell’s back to school/August column which has a circulation of over 500,000 readersand appears in a number of parenting publications across the country, including Carolina Parent.
“They are used to fewer demands and expectations. Also, during the summer, some teens tend to lose their social network. This makes for an awkward transition and the need to get reacquainted with peers after much time has passed.”
Teens might be concerned about considerable changes as well, such as more intense academic loads or new school environments.
“Depending on the year, teens may be facing major challenges such as starting high school, applying to colleges or looking for work,” Shadick says.
Don’t underestimate stress
“Signs that your teen’s stress is getting out of hand include drastic changes in grades, personality or habits,” Shadick says. “For example, if a neat and orderly teen starts to become disheveled and disorganized, parents may need to be concerned.”
Parents can help
Shadick believes planning a structured summer is essential because this alleviates a drastic transition. He also advises maintaining your teen’s social activities and connections.
“Encourage your teen to stay in contact with their friends from school so that they will have the social support they need when they return to classes,” Shadick says. He also says it’s a good idea for parents to talk frequently with their teens about the transition from summer vacation to school, and to work with them on being properly prepared for the change.
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“Absenteeism, errors, conflicts with colleagues, missed deadlines, fatigue, difficulty concentrating—these are all indications that depression is an issue,” explains Dr. Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the counseling center at New York City’s Pace University, in the Winter 2011 issue of Esperanza. Shadick says recent economic woes have only exacerbated the stress and anxiety levels of workers in the United States and Canada.
According to Shadick, when financial and family conditions permit, workplace depression actually can be an important impetus for change. In that light, the very real pain of depression might be compared to the agony of labor, giving birth to a new existence.
“It can give us a chance to re-examine our lives and where we are,” Shadick says, “and in that sense it can also be a gift.”