I started to suffer from anxiety and depression when I was in 7th grade, but by the time I got to high school, things were getting out of control. When I started going to see the adjustment counselor every, or every other class period to get support in managing my bad thoughts and anxiety, the school contacted my parents in order to get me help.
Things got hard and I was hospitalized but I did return to school. My parents worked with the school to put an educational accommodation plan in place. It wasn’t long, though, until the school had to act again. Because I was self-injuring and had unsafe thoughts, the school was concerned about my safety.
The school set up a meeting with my parents—even the principal participated—and together they decided that I should have a psychiatric evaluation. There were two results from this meeting. First, I was hospitalized and received the treatment I needed. Second, my parents and the school agreed on an IEP that turned out to be very effective in addressing my mental health needs.
Being placed in an alternative classroom was a great help to me because I felt less pressure and more support. I was able to take breaks from class as I needed them. The school and I worked out some calming strategies so that I could make it through the school day. For example, I could go and have a cup of tea, which was soothing for me. I also participated in group therapy at school and met weekly with the school psychologist.
My parents and I felt that the school was responsive to my needs. The school followed through with the education plan and worked with me to achieve my goals. Looking back, though, I think everyone waited a little too long to act; having the accommodations sooner probably would have allowed me to avoid some of my struggles.
Having the support of my parents has been really important to me in managing my mental health and getting better. It was not good for me when I felt that I couldn’t be open with my parents. I felt guilty for not letting them know what was going on with me and they had no idea that I was having such a hard time. But they have been very involved in my treatment and in making sure I am getting appropriate care.
I’m now a sophomore in college. My parents and I took steps to make sure that I had resources and accommodations at college. The summer before my first year, we met with the Disabilities Resources office. We had information from my psychiatrist and therapist and a list of accommodations – like extra time on exams and assignments, permission to leave the class when I needed to ease my anxiety, flexibility with attendance, a quiet space for tests – that would help me to succeed. The people in the Disabilities Resources office were willing to work with me and my parents to find what would work and meet my needs. Most of my professors have been understanding and respectful of my accommodations, and I just can’t understand those who have not.
If I were giving advice to incoming college first year students, I’d tell them to
- establish your resources and the accommodations you need ahead of time, at the beginning of the summer
- develop your self-advocacy skills so you can get the services that will help you to succeed
- count on there being difficult times, but you can help yourself by knowing what you need and who you can turn to for help
- not be discouraged by things that other people say – you’re important and you should get all that you deserve.
I still see an on-campus counselor once or twice a week, but I’m doing well. I am trying to start an Active Minds chapter on my campus and am involved in a group that educates others about disabilities. Even though the adjustment to college was challenging and I still have some hard times, I know that my parents have my back. They want me to succeed and be well. I know I’m on the right track.
- What has been your experience in getting accommodations in school?
- What would you advise someone seeking accommodations?
- What would you advise a person living with a mood disorder who is in their first year in college about getting and staying well?
Elizabeth is a student in Massachusetts. She volunteers in the Families for Depression Awareness Teen Speakers program.