Module: Mood Disorders (Page 1 of 13)


  1. Definition
    1. Depressive Disorders
    2. Bipolar Disorders
  2. Manifestation
    1. General Manifestation
    2. Specific to Academia
  3. Institutional Accommodations
  4. Assistive Technology Accommodations
  5. Teaching Strategies—
    What Can Faculty Do?
    1. Specific Strategies per Disability
    2. General Strategies
    3. Shaping the Environment
  6. Learning Strategies—
    What Can Students do?
  7. Resources
  8. Feedback


Two broadly recognized groups of Mood Disorders are Depressive Disorders (also known as unipolar depression) and Bipolar Disorders; the former being far more common than the latter. The division between the two is based on whether the person has ever had a Manic, Mixed or Hypomanic Episode.

Depressive Disorders

The best known and most researched Depressive Disorder is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) commonly called clinical depression or major depression. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a mental disorder lasting a minimum of two weeks and features an all-encompassing low mood; a state of sadness, gloom, and pessimistic ideation, with loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. MDD occurs twice as often among women as men.

Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar Disorders (BD), formerly known as "manic depression", include the presence of Manic, Mixed or Hypomanic Episodes that typically, but not always, involve Major Depressive Episodes as well. A Manic Episode is defined as a period that lasts at least one week and is marked by an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.

General Manifestation

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or clinical depression is characterized by:

  • Poor concentration, difficulty thinking and memorizing.
  • Indecisiveness.
  • A lack of motivation.
  • Distractibility and low frustration tolerance.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Social isolation; reduced social interaction with peers, faculty and others.
  • Physical agitation or slowing down.
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain.
  • Physical complaints related to headaches, digestive problems and fatigue.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt, helplessness and hopelessness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Limited voice inflexion.
  • Reduced ability to process and learn new information.
  • Reduced ability to communicate succinctly.
  • Pessimistic outlook.

Bipolar Disorders involve manic, mixed or hypomanic episodes and usually, but not always, involve episodes of depression. Manic Episodes are characterized by:

  • Inflated self esteem or grandiosity.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Alternating moods of euphoria and irritability.
  • Increased talkativeness with pressured, loud, and rapid speech.
  • Flight of ideas and racing thoughts.
  • Distractibility.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Increased goal-directed activity often involving excessive planning of and participation in multiple activities (without regard for apparent risks).
  • Increased sociability marked by intrusion, demand and conversational domination.
  • A high level of risky and pleasure seeking activity.
  • Impulsivity.
  • Psychomotor agitation or restlessness (e.g. pacing, holding multiple conversations simultaneously, etc.).

Manifestation Specfic to Academia

Students with a Mood Disorder diagnosis have significantly more difficulty than the average student in:

  • Maintaining consistent class attendance and timeliness.
  • Starting and completing assignments.
  • Understanding and remembering verbal directions.
  • Developing and maintaining positive peer and faculty relationships.
  • Getting the motivation to study and plan.
  • Maintaining focus and coherent thought during test taking and oral presentations.
  • Participating in class discussions and group assignments.
  • Maintaining focus and attention during class sessions.
  • Handling time pressures and multiple tasks.
  • Responding to change.
  • Screening out environmental stimuli.
  • Demonstration of learning through typical testing procedures.
  • Responding to negative feedback.
  • Approaching authority figures.

(Souma, Rickerson, & Burgstahler, 2008; Disability Advisors Working Network (DAWN), 2008)

Institutional Accommodations

  1. Alternative Format
    • Textbooks and print materials can be converted to alternative formats for students.
  2. Alternative testing arrangementssuch as:
    • Extra time.
    • A separate, quiet, non-distracting room.
    • Provision of a reader/scribe.
    • Use of a computer, including adaptive software and hardware.
    • Alternative format choices such as essay, oral presentation, multiple choice, portfolio, etc.
  3. Counseling Services
  4. Note Taking Support
  5. Priority Registration

Teaching Strategies—What Can Faculty do?

Specific Strategies per Disability

Allow alternative testing arrangements
This may include extra time, a separate testing location, alternative testing formats, etc. (Disability Advisors Working Network (DAWN), 2008) The Disability Service Office will assist students in providing alternative arrangements.
Consider flexible assignments
Upon request and in certain circumstances, consider allowing extended assignment deadlines, alternative assignment choices, hand written assignment completion, etc. (Disability Advisors Working Network (DAWN), 2008)
Clearly communicate your attendance policy
If attendance and class participation are part of the grading system for a class, inform the class on day one of the semester. Negotiate alternatives with students who are requesting flexible attendance and encourage them to withdraw from the class if a good resolution cannot be reached. Suggest other class possibilities such as distance learning.
Changes to the teaching environment
Provide students ample notice if there is a change in the class routine such as a change in classroom location. This will allow time for students to prepare for the change and avoid potential anxiety.
Allow for breaks
Give the student permission to take breaks as needed or prearrange break times.
Foster an encouraging, validating, academic environment.
Maintain an awareness of the student's demeanor
If changes in behavior, mood, quality level of assignment completion and test grades are notable, be ready to inform the student of appropriate campus resources such as counseling, tutoring, etc.

General Strategies

Provide Accessible Course Materials
Ensure that all curriculum materials (syllabus, notes, presentations, assignments, etc.) are available in an accessible format that can be used and manipulated by a computer (Word, HTML, RTF, PDF, etc.). To learn how to create accessible materials, see Training Modules and Tutorials on this website.
Plan Ahead
Select textbooks and materials needed for the semester as early as possible.  Students with disabilities will need time to take class materials to the Disability Service Office for conversion to an alternative format.
Provide Structure
Provide a syllabus and class assignments with clearly delineated expectations and due dates.
Provide Guided Notes on the Web
Prior to lectures, provide students with consistent, structured notes that are in an accessible format. Since students with disabilities sometimes have more difficulty than others in processing new information (especially while simultaneously trying to take notes), having notes ahead of time will increase students’ ability to follow along during class and more effectively process course content. If it is not acceptable for all students to have lecture notes ahead of time, make alternative arrangements for students with disabilities such as emailing lecture notes to the student(s) or setting up an office mailbox where the student(s) can receive notes ahead of time.
Provide Multiple Methods of Presentation
Present information and ideas in multiple ways in order to address different learning styles.
Engage students in multiple ways of learning
Incorporate active teaching/learning methods where possible. For example, problem-based learning activities, community projects, in-class activities and discussions, etc.
Encourage Multiple Methods of Expression
Offer more than one way for students to demonstrate what they have learned in class. For example, students can be given a choice between taking a test, writing a paper, giving an oral presentation, producing a video, etc. Additionally, keep in mind that some students may have difficulty working in a group. Alternative ways of completing a group assignment may need to be considered.
Repeat or paraphrase questions and responses so that the whole class can hear.
This is especially important in large classrooms and when a microphone is used during live and taped presentations.
Highlight Key Points
Provide an overview when introducing a new topic, and highlight key points in a variety of ways throughout class lessons and in written materials. Use visual, verbal and interactive cues for added emphasis. This helps students know what to expect and what is most important, thus improving their ability to achieve the learning objectives.
Summarize Key Points
Summarizing key points at the end of each class will increase the student’s ability to process and integrate new information.
Chunk Information
Break large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments (“chunking”).
Provide Study Aids
Provide study questions, study guides, and opportunities for questions and answers to help students review and clarify essential course content.
Allow the use of digital recorders
Provide students the opportunity to process and review class material at their own pace, both after class and later during the semester. Review of material in this manner is especially helpful in preparation for mid-term and final exams.
Engage with Students who Self Advocate
Team up with students with disabilities (who disclose their accommodation needs) to determine a plan that is effective for all involved.

Shaping the Environment

Seating and positioning
Allow preferential seating located near the door so that the student can easily leave class for breaks when needed. Additionally, encourage the student to sit away from any possible sources of distraction such as air conditioning units, windows, etc.
Create a calming environment
If possible, turn off fluorescent lights and provide natural lighting. Decrease extraneous distracting stimuli and maintain a routine.

Learning Strategies—What Can the Student do?

Advocate for self
Connect with the disability service office to learn about available services and supports. Communicate with instructors about personal learning style and any individual accommodations that are being requested. Students should also be encouraged to read the ACCESS Self-Advocacy Handbook for College Students with Disabilities, available on this website.
Consider alternative class formats
If consistent class attendance is difficult, consider online, distance coursework as an alternative.
Chunk Information
Break larger tasks and assignments into smaller, more manageable pieces. Use an organizer and map out the semester detailing due dates, assignments, test dates, etc.
Enroll as a part-time student Consider attending school as a part-time student as opposed to full-time.
Plan ahead for books in alternative format If alternative formats are required for textbooks and other reading materials, students should notify the disability service office as early as possible, ideally before the semester begins. Acquiring and converting alternative formats takes time, and advance planning will ensure the materials are available when they’re needed.
Record class lectures
Ask professors for permission to record class lectures.
Peer support
Seek the peer support of other students with disabilities. Refer to the Disability Service Office for information about peer support groups. Form or join a study group with classmates who are considerate of diverse learning needs.
Schedule regular breaks
Decrease overstimulation by taking regular breaks during study time, assignment completion, class sessions, etc.

Resources — Mood Disorders

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Publications, contact and membership information.
Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA)
Information and resources on depression and related affective disorders.
National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression
General information on Schizophrenia and Depression.

Resources for Psychological Disabilities

Academic Accommodations for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities
Specific strategies for working with students who have psychiatric impairments.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Information is provided as a public service to aid in the understanding and treatment of the developmental, behavioral, and mental disorders.
American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
Organization of psychiatrists dedicated to excellence in practice, teaching and research of forensic psychiatry.
American Anorexia and Bulimia Association Inc.
National organization dedicated to the elimination of eating disorders.
American Psychiatric Association
Health information for patients and physicians and other online APA programs.
American Psychological Association
Information and links to a number of psychology-related topics.
American Psychological Society
To promote, protect, and advance the interests of scientifically oriented psychology.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America
General information on anxiety disorders and the ADAA, consumer resources, message boards and chatrooms.
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, How-to Tips for Educators
Practical information about reasonable accommodations for people who have psychiatric disabilities.
Disability-Related Resources on the Internet
A comprehensive list of Web sites and discussion lists related to disability.
Mental Health Information Source
Source for mental health and medical continuing education.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
Support and advocacy organization of consumers, families, and friends of people with severe mental illnesses. Award-winning Web site.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
General information on mental health-related issues, news, facts, and statistics (available en Español).
National Mental Health Association
The country's oldest and largest nonprofit organization addressing all aspects of mental health and mental illness through advocacy, education, research and service.
Obsessive Compulsive Foundation
A variety of resources and services regarding obsessive compulsive disorders.
Washington Advocates for the Mentally Ill
W/AMI's mission is to address the unmet needs of individuals with mental illness and their families through advocacy, public education, information and referral, and self-help support groups.

General Disability Resources

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
ADA Home Page (U.S. Department of Justice)
ERIC Digest
Overview of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504
Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI)
Workshops, publications, and resources about computer access for people with disabilities
University of Washington - Disability-Related Resources on the Internet
A comprehensive list of Web sites and discussion lists related to disability.
Faculty Room
The Faculty Room is a site for faculty and administrators at postsecondary institutions to learn about how to create classroom environments and activities that maximize the learning of all students, including those with disabilities. This page is specific to faculty rights.
PACER Center – Champions for Children with Disabilities
ADA Q& A: Section 504 & Postsecondary Education
U.S Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights
Three documents by the Office of Civil Rights describing the rights of wounded warriors to a postsecondary education under the new GI Bill:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
Office of Civil Rights (OCR)
Discrimination on the Basis of Disability
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

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