When I entered college in Fall 2014, I had no clue that colleges even offered accommodations for students with mental illnesses. I thought that only students with learning disabilities were offered accommodations. When I thought of accommodations, I thought of extended time for taking tests. Most students hold this stereotype and have no idea what their university can offer them.
Not Having Accommodations Ruined My Dream School
As a freshman at the University of Delaware, I went the typical route of living in a double room (aka, having a roommate). At the time, my anxiety made it impossible for me to sleep with another person in the room. I spent my whole life avoiding sleepovers because I could not fall asleep with others around me. I would start noticing my friends falling asleep before me, leading me to wonder why I wasn’t asleep already, leading to a panic attack. The only exception to this was my parents or my ex-boyfriend. I knew that having a roommate was not what I wanted in college, but I didn’t know that a university would consider my anxiety a valid reason for requesting a single.
Excited to start a new chapter in my life, move in-day went fine. When it was time for my first night in my dorm, things got bad. I got about an hour of sleep the entire night, and I spent the entire next day in a panic. “I’m never going to be able to sleep,” I remember thinking to myself. As I attended orientation events, I held back tears and fought off panic attacks. When we had a break in our schedule, I ran over to a quiet part of campus and called my parents. “I can’t do this,” I said, “you need to come pick me up.”
A Rocky Beginning to College
The next day, I dropped out of college. I re-enrolled at a private school close to my house that I was able to commute to. While my anxiety cleared up, I was devastated. Delaware was the school of my dreams and I felt like a complete failure. All of my friends were off having the time of their lives in college and I hated commuting to a tiny private school.
I transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst the next semester. My ex-boyfriend already went to school there and made the transition a lot easier. My roommate was luckily never there, so it was basically like having a single. Sophomore year, I went back to having a roommate. I spent almost every night in my ex-boyfriend’s room because I was too afraid to sleep in my own room. This had nothing to do with my roommate, but my anxiety of sleeping in a space with other people.
Finally Getting Accommodations
Junior year housing selection was creeping up and I knew that I could not share a room with someone again. I wanted my own space where I felt comfortable sleeping. This is when I first found out about accommodations for students with mental illnesses. A friend who had a single told me that they got it through Disability Services. After doing some research, I registered with them. It was a relatively painless process, all I needed was a note from my therapist detailing what accommodations I would need and why. After that, Disability Services quickly approved my request for a single. Not only did I qualify for a single at the price of a double, but I had priority when it came time for housing selection. My housing appointment was one of the very first time slots.
Entering my junior year was the very first time I wasn’t anxious to go back to college. I finally had my own space. What if I knew about this before my freshman year? If I registered for a single at Delaware in the first place, I could have saved myself tons of trouble. I wouldn’t have had to technically drop out, re-enroll, and then transfer colleges (all within one year!).
How Accommodations Can Help You
Getting a single room is one of the hundreds of accommodations a school can offer you. Depending on your diagnoses and needs, you will have plenty of options. Some include:
- Having an emotional support animal
- Having written exams instead of oral exams
- Extensions on assignments
- Allowing you to work on assignments at home instead of in class
- Additional absences from courses
- Using technology (e.g. laptops) in class when it is otherwise banned
I wish I knew the options that were available to me before I entered college. You should feel comfortable in both your living situation and classes. Nine times out of ten, your university is willing to help. All it takes is scheduling a meeting with your Disability Services office.
Accommodations can save you from missing classes, slipping grades, and increased symptoms of your mental illness. If you have any concerns, before you begin this school year, see what arrangements can be made for you. I guarantee that they will make your college life a whole lot easier.