University of Texas at AustinDivision of Diversity and Community Engagement

Psychological Disabilities

The term psychological disabilities covers a wide range of conditions and may include:

  • Depression: hopelessness, insomnia or hypersomnia, decreased or increased appetite, lethargy, bouts of crying, irritability, feelings of guilt
  • Bipolar Disorder: (formerly known as Manic Depression) mood swings from overly high/manic and sometimes irritable to sad and hopeless
  • Generalized Anxiety & Panic Disorder: excessive anxiety and worry, recurrent panic attacks
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): uncontrollable thoughts and repetitive behaviors
  • Social Phobia: fear of social situations
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, irritability
  • Schizophrenia: distorted perception of reality, hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thoughts and speech, lack of emotional expression
  • Eating disorders (Anorexia or Bulimia); unhealthy preoccupation with food and weight, purging, binging, reducing caloric intake often leading to physical health problems

Common myths compared to recently published reports by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health:

MYTH: A person with a psychological disability can will him/herself back to health. Mental illness is something an individual can snap out of by choice.

FACT: In general, research shows there to be a chemical, biological and genetic nature with mental illnesses. With appropriate treatment, typically including medication and/or therapy, the vast majority of psychological disorders are effectively cured or controlled.

MYTH: Having a mental illness precludes an individual from working or succeeding in school.

FACT: One in five Americans has some form of mental illness in any given 6 month period.

MYTH: The mass media portrays persons with mental illness accurately by showing them to be violent and dangerous.

FACT: News and entertainment media tend to link mental illness and criminal violence; however, studies indicate that except for those persons with a record of criminal violence before becoming ill, and those with substance abuse or alcohol problems, people with mental illness are not especially prone to violence.

Onset of Psychological Disabilities

  • A majority of psychological/mood disorders first appear in late adolescence or early adulthood (ages 18-25)
  • Students may not know where to turn or what resources are available when they first experience the effects of a psychological disability-such as a depressive episode, manic episode, or panic attack
  • There may be an adjustment period after first being diagnosed; often a student must try a variety of medications until finding the appropriate dosages and/or combinations. Common side effects experienced while adjusting to medication may include: lethargy, suppressed affect (lack expression of feelings and emotions), dry mouth, agitation, and disturbances with sleep and appetite.

Challenges for Students with Psychological Disabilities

  • Psychological disabilities are often termed invisible disabilities because they are not as readily identified. Faculty, staff and students often do not realize when a fellow student has a psychological disability.
  • Students may be reluctant to reach out for help for a psychological disability due to the perceived stigma and misconceptions surrounding diagnosis and treatment
  • Many students with a psychological disability are very private about their diagnosis and condition. SSD counsels them to share accommodation letters, but not disability specifics with faculty or staff. Please refrain from asking a student what particular type of disability he or she has.

Resources for Students

To learn more about associations and supports specific to your disability, check out our Advocacy and Support page or the resources below.

For more information, please see Working with Students with Psychological Disabilities.