While the college experience can be fun and enriching, college is also a place of anxiety for many. As mental health awareness becomes increasingly prevalent in the discussion of overall health well-being, growing numbers of people especially young people and college students are becoming aware of and diagnosed with mental illness in a variety of forms. Whether you or somebody you care about is experiencing depression, chronic anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, or any other form of mental illness, college can be a nerve-wracking experience.
Fortunately, online college frees students from many of the anxieties commonly associated with the traditional college classroom model. Under the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the definition of disability was broadened to include mental illness. This means that colleges are required to provide accommodations accordingly.
While colleges often provide accommodations such as preferential seating, use of a note-taker assistant in class, or frequent breaks, these do not really apply to online courses. However, online college still comes with plenty of accommodation options. The more familiar you are with those options, the better your experience will be. This article lists a wide array of accommodations and assistive technology that can help you earn an online degree and take the next step forward in your life.
Before we dive into these accommodations, if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for immediate, 24/7 support.
If you’re interested in a look at both general accommodations for individuals with disabilities as well as accommodations related to specific disabilities, take a look at our guide to Disability Resources and Advocacy Groups.
And if you’d like to know more about how disability legislation can affect your student experience, check out our page on Key Legislation Impacting Students with Disabilities.
Otherwise, read on for a closer look at the accommodations available to students with mental health needs.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability accommodations have become more and more commonplace. These aren’t just for students on campus. Online colleges also provide a full selection of accommodations and benefits for students with mental health needs, included those listed below.
1. Additional Time
A common accommodation that applies equally to online and on-campus students is that of additional time. For a variety of reasons, the standard time limits on essays and exams can place undue stress on students with disabilities, especially if you experience issues like anxiety or depression. With a documented request from the campus disability resource center, many professors are happy to accommodate students with a reasonable sum of extra time.
2. Advanced Notice and Early Access
Many people become anxious over assignments and course materials that may be looming up ahead in a class schedule. Fortunately, you can request early access to assignment prompts and study materials in order to lessen the anxiety and get a jump in completing your work. As long as it does not fundamentally alter the course, many professors are happy to oblige.
3. Alternative Completion Options
Sometimes, assignments and exams come in formats that do not agree with everyone. If you experience anxiety or PTSD, for example, oral presentations to the class may be a truly stressful experience, and certain subject matter may be out of the question for you. You can discuss this with your professors and arrange for alternative completion options that better suits your needs, including the possibility of a private presentation, a recorded presentation, or even just a paper.
4. Counseling and Therapy Services
With the growing awareness of the prevalence of mental illness, many colleges have come to offer more and more resources specifically for serving the mental health of the student population. Counseling and therapy services are chief among those resources. Many colleges offer free on-campus mental health counseling services to students, as well as online and phone counseling. If your school does not offer its own counseling services, an advisor can most likely can refer you to a partnered counseling office.
5. Disability Resource Center
When it comes to getting the accommodations you need, a school’s disability resource center should be the first place you go. The disability resource center is where you can get professional assistance in identifying your disability while also alerting your school of your need for certain accommodations. Disability counselors work with you to meet specific goals, advocate for your needs, and connect to other groups and services. Counselors can also help you seek out and apply for scholarships and funding to aid in your education, or in acquiring assistive technology. If you have need for support or need to issue a grievance concerning discriminatory treatment, the disability resource center the starting point.
6. LGBTQ Student Groups
Due to the persistence of societal prejudice, many LGBTQ students are particularly vulnerable to traumatic formative experiences and related PTSD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Though not specifically focused on mental health, LGBTQ student groups offer community and support to students who feel they have nowhere to turn, or are struggling to cope with aspects of their own identity. Though typically stationed on campus, these groups serve online LGBTQ students as well.
7. Mental Health Resource Guides
In addition to counseling services, many colleges provide mental health resource guides that discuss the support services and accommodations offered by the school or its surrounding community. This will usually include contact information, valuable links, and other tips on how to seek out and find help.
8. Online Library Services
Though not strictly “disability accommodations,” online library services are extremely useful to everyone, and for disabled students in particular. Unfortunately, many students are unaware of these resources. Conducting research can be tricky, but consultation with a research librarian can help. Here, you can discuss your project, be guided to useful databases, and gain instruction in using search techniques and filters. Moreover, most libraries provide digital document delivery, which means that any document that you need (and which is available in the catalog) can be scanned and delivered to you as a PDF. If you experience anxiety attempting to navigate the often vexing physical space of an actual university library, the online database can make researching and learning a much smoother task. Contact your school’s library for more details.
9. Online Tutoring Services
Tutoring services are also useful and available to everyone, but may fly under the radar as a category of learning accommodation. But this is especially useful if you live with mental health challenges like PTSD or depression that cause you to occasionally miss live lectures or class discussions. A tutor can help you fill in the gaps. Tutors come in a variety of forms, and are available in every subject. Moreover, many colleges (especially those that have a high number of online programs) offer online tutoring services through chat or live-video platforms. If you feel like you need any kind of help wrapping your head around a subject or require a pace that suits your emotional needs, don’t hesitate to contact a tutor. Of particular value are online writing centers, in which writing tutors work one-on-one with you at all stages of the writing process. You can’t get through college without writing papers, but you don’t need to do it alone. Especially if you need extended time, utilizing the writing center’s services can help mitigate any complications and ensure a high grade.
Although there may not be assistive technology specifically for aiding with mental illness, there are plenty of apps and devices that can help reduce the anxiety of your college experience. Below are a variety of options designed to help you get things done as efficiently as possible and with a minimum of stress.
1. Productivity and Organization Tools
College demands that you get things done, but this can be tricky when you experience depression, anxiety, dissociative disorders, or any other form of mental illness. When these factors are combined with all of today’s convenient distractions, it’s easy to become unproductive. However, the same devices that set your productivity on a detour can also be used to get you back on track. Below are a few options.
For those on the go, Any.do is a free app that lets the user organize and sync their plans across multiple devices. If you have a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet, and a cloud drive, this can help you wrangle them all.
Meditation is useful for everybody, especially those with anxiety issues. Sometimes, to be at your most productive, you need to slow down for a few moments. Breathe2Relax is an app that helps you do just that.
Don’t fear the proverbial mountain of emails; Edison is an email assistant app for Apple devices that helps you stay on top of your inbox.
If you’ve got things to do, Finish is an iOS app that will help you get them done through organizing, schedule syncing, and prompting.
Available for a range of mobile devices and operating systems, MyStudyLife is an app that combines productivity and organizational tools with study assistance, allowing you to sync and keep track of assignments, exams, and your study schedule.
Say it & Mail it Pro
Available for Apple devices, Say it & Mail it Pro allows you to manage, dictate, and send emails all through vocal commands. With the ease of dictation you can keep your inbox (or inboxes) from overflowing.
The five Second Journal
The five Second Journal builds on the classic graphic organizer, optimizing the model for today’s demands. If you have trouble getting motivated for the day, this journal helps sort out your priorities, check in with your self and your emotions, set and accomplish goals, and even offers a daily challenge.
Available for a wide range of devices and operating systems, Wunderlist helps keep track of schedules, due dates, and obligations.
2. Speech Recognition Software
Speech recognition software can be useful for everybody. By making the writing process hands-free, speech recognition software can help reduce the stress of drafting and editing papers, allowing you to develop your thoughts more fluidly, and avoid traveling down a stress rabbit-hold while staring at the keyboard. Below are a few options.
If you are an Apple user, you already have this, even if you don’t know about it. All iOS devices come with some sort of dictation option. Newer devices usually offer more and better features. Turning Apple Dictation on can be different for each device.
The most popular software of its kind, Dragon NaturallySpeaking allows you to use vocal commands to operate your computer entirely hands free. If staring at your computer and keyboard makes you anxious, having the freedom to look away, walk around, or close your eyes and dictate a paper can be seriously helpful.
Google Docs Voice Typing
Google Docs, Google’s free word processing software, includes a dictation function, which can be useful for writing papers; it also comes with some voice commands. All you need is a Gmail account to access it, which is free too.
Windows Speech Recognition
Windows devices offer speech recognition functions that can allow you to dictate writing and navigate your computer hands free. However, Windows Speech Recognition is not as advanced or functional as other speech recognition software on this list.
3. Study Assistance
For some students, exams are literally a thing of nightmares. Fortunately there are apps and devices designed to make studying a stress-free experience. Check out some of the best here below.
Livescribe Echo Smartpen
Extra useful for keeping notes, this smartpen records writing and audio, and transfers all of it to your computer. Its features can help you study by recording and organizing your in-class notes, allowing you to go over anything you may have missed, and rearrange them in a way that is easier for you to work with while studying.
With software for all operating systems, MindNode offers note taking and study-assistance through a visual, intuitive interface. The program allows students to organize information in a format that better suits their needs, reducing anxiety over messy notes or disorganized study materials.
Available for Apple devices, SoundNote is a notetaking app that allows you to type, draw, and create audio recordings while taking notes, all of which can be easily reference later.
4. Writing Assistance
Writing papers can be an intimidating experience, but it doesn’t have to be. There are lots of resources that can help you become a better, more confident writer. Below are a few of our favorites:
A form of predictive text software similar to what you might find on a smartphone (without the slip-of-the-thumb mistakes), Co:Writer is designed to help with writing documents of all kinds by predicting and suggesting words based on what you are writing.
Made by Don Johnston, the same group behind Co:Writer, Draft:Builder helps you through the writing process through outlining, note-taking, and draft-building tools.
Offering a variety of programs, including wordQ and speakQ, goQ Software provides students with writing assistance in the form of speech-to-text and predictive text technology.
Free and useful for anybody, Grammarly offers spelling and grammar editing assistance in the form of a Google Chrome app.
And if you’re interested in a career helping others navigate mental health challenges, consider a degree in psychology: