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Disability Justice

Library Display, October 2021

WEEK 3: Mental disorders & college students

Week 3. Our topic this week is mental disorders and college students.

  • College students are experiencing mental health challenges at an increasingly high rate. In the past decade alone, with the number of college students treated for depression went from 9% to over 20% (Inside Higher Ed). At SCC, historically the largest category of disabilities seen in Disability Access Services was learning disabilities. In the past year, it has shifted and mental health disorders now make up the largest percentage of student disabilities we see. The Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant increase in college students experiencing anxiety and depression (PMC).  
  • Studies have shown that college students show extremely high levels of anxiety. Part of this may be the increased trauma students experience during their formative years: 9/11, school shootings, pandemics, recessions, and the various impacts of social media (NPR). And while getting help for mental health challenges is becoming less stigmatized, students are still reluctant to seek help due to social stigma, financial limitations, and overwhelmed schedules.  

What can we do?   

For the most part, students in college are in a period of transition, whether contextually or at an age where their development is in process. Student development theory informs us that when people are in a period of transition or significant development, they are more likely to be at risk of feeling marginalized and struggling socioemotionally. Creating an environment in which college students are not only told, but shown, that they and their needs matters, is a significant way to support students (College Student Development). Especially during Covid, when students’ plans and lives have been unexpectedly changing, now more than ever they need their sense of mattering and well-being to be centered.    

SCC Students

In an anonymous survey, SCC students with disabilities were asked what their instructors and staff could do to help them feel seen and supported. Their answers reflect student opinions, not the recommendations or opinions of DAS staff. Below are some common themes and responses: 


  • Strict attendance requirements can really limit the ability to attend to their disabling conditions. 
  • It hurts when instructors refer to their accommodations or letter of accommodation negatively or dismissively. 
  • Matters of mental illness and disability are personal and students feel uncomfortable when they are asked to share their personal information outside of the DAS process. 
  • Having classes with accessibility built in makes students feel more welcome and comfortable. 
  • It helps students when instructors are willing to meet with them to find out how they can provide support and implement the accommodations.  
  • They appreciate when an instructor is willing to approach the student to ask if they’re doing okay when they are obviously struggling. 
  • Overall, students ask that instructors listen and be kind, open, and respectful about the accommodation process. Students appreciate the work SCC does in making spaces accessible and appreciate the work of faculty.  

Further resources: