- 8 in 10 Americans support giving college students with mental health issues accommodations such as extra absences, extended deadlines, and more time to take exams
- 86% of Americans who support these accommodations say mental health challenges can make it more difficult to perform to the best of one’s ability
- The plurality of Americans say depression is the number one mental health condition that should qualify students for accommodations
- 54% of Americans who don’t think students with mental health issues should get special accommodations say it’s because students must learn to cope
Just weeks into the fall 2021 semester, two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students died by suicide. These incidents sparked new conversations about how colleges can support students’ mental health, particularly as more students struggle with anxiety, isolation, and depression amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
One possible way of alleviating some pressure students may feel is giving students who are experiencing mental health issues more flexibility on deadlines and extended time when taking exams. In September, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,250 U.S. adults to gauge support for these types of accommodations.
8 in 10 Americans support giving college students struggling with mental health issues special accommodations in the classroom
Support for giving students with mental health issues accommodations is widespread, with 82% of Americans saying they should have extra time to complete exams and homework assignments.
Eighty-percent of respondents also believe students dealing with mental health issues should be granted extra absences from class.
Eighty-five percent of those in favor of accommodations believe depression should qualify students for extended deadlines, followed by anxiousness (60%), stress (57%), and overwhelm (50%).
The transition to college can trigger these feelings for a lot of students, according to integrative mental health specialist Dr. Brittany Fieri, which is why it’s important for schools to offer a variety of support systems.
“Accommodations like added time and excused absences can greatly help college students, but I also believe it doesn’t stop there,” Fieri says. “There are many ways that college students can be helped that are usually person-specific. Faculty and staff should take the time to get to know students and what they need in order to succeed.”
For Amy Pritchett, a student support specialist with online tutoring service Preply, giving students breaks to address mental health issues is long overdue.
“Mental health is the same as physical health and should be recognized as such in an academic setting,” Pritchett says. “If college students are feeling so overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed that they need a day off from school to reset, then they absolutely should have this option.”
Mental health challenges make meeting deadlines, performing well difficult, advocates say
The top reason why Americans support extended time for tests and homework is that mental health challenges can make it more difficult to meet deadlines and perform to the best of one’s ability. Eighty-six percent selected this reason.
Additionally, 49% of advocates also want to encourage individuals living with mental illness to attend college, and 38% want to create a more equal playing field among all students.
Dave Evangelisti, founder and CEO of test prep service Test-Guide has seen firsthand how mental health issues can impact a student’s ability to learn and study.
There can be days when the student physically cannot focus on their studies because of various mental health issues like depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder,” Evangelisti says. “Extra assistance will help these students better learn the material, which is the whole point of attending a higher education institution.”
Opponents want students to learn how to cope with life’s struggles
Among those who don’t think students with mental health challenges should be granted extra time for tests and homework, 54% say students must learn to manage life with a variety of struggles.
Thirty-nine percent of those opposed are worried the system will be abused because mental health issues are hard to prove. Twenty-seven percent believe accommodations will make students weak, and 17% don’t believe mental health issues are real.
Jaimie Eckert, a spiritual life coach and founder of Scrupulosity Solutions, LLC, opposes accommodations for students with mental health issues on the basis that it may do more harm than good.
“Offering more excused absences will likely lead to more time alone in dorm rooms where students may engage in self-harm, self-medication, or lonely suicidal ideation,” she says. “I’m also concerned that special accommodations will enable the perpetuation of mental health disorders, rather than forcing students to seek long-term healing.”
Instead of giving students classroom accommodations, Eckert proposes another solution. “University students with mental health conditions should be placed in caring, supportive homes or dormitories with full-time adult staff, not young RAs. The goal should be to create a safe network where young people know they have to live up to the same expectations as everyone else but can be supported by truly caring individuals.”
Americans with mental health issues more likely to support accommodations
According to our survey, 67% of Americans have dealt with a mental health issue in their life.
These individuals are more likely to support extended deadlines for students than those who haven’t dealt with mental health issues, by a rate of 87% to 72%.
Eighty-six percent of individuals who experienced mental health issues say students with similar challenges should get extra absences, compared to 66% of people who haven’t experienced a mental health condition.
Eighty-nine percent of respondents who experienced mental health issues support giving students extra time on tests and homework deadlines say it’s because these types of challenges make it difficult to meet deadlines and perform to the best of one’s abilities.
Among individuals who had mental health issues, but don’t favor giving students extra support, 45% say it’s because mental health issues are too hard to prove, and students will abuse the system. One in 5 in this group also say that giving extra support to students with mental health issues will make them weak.
A demographic breakdown of support, opposition for accommodations
We looked at how different demographics view this issue. While men and women have similar views, there is some divergence based on age and education level.
College attendees more likely to advocate for students with mental health challenges
Eighty-two percent of survey respondents who attended college are in favor of giving students with mental health issues extra absences, compared to 72% of Americans who did not attend college. They also favor giving students with mental health challenges more time to complete tests and assignments, although in this case the gap is more narrow, 83% compared to 79%.
Fifty-four percent of college-educated individuals say these accommodations are necessary to encourage more students with mental health issues to attend college. Only 38% of middle school or high school graduates gave the same response.
Thirty-seven percent of middle school and high school graduates who oppose accommodations for students with mental health issues say it’s because it will make these students weak. Twenty-one percent of college-educated people who oppose accommodations gave the same reason.
Gen Z cites stress, anxiety as reasons why students should get extended deadlines, more absences
Support for giving students with mental health issues additional time on tests and homework assignments is similar across age brackets, ranging from 78% among people 45 and older, to 85% among people 18-24 and 35-44.
As for extra absences, support is also high, ranging from 74% among Americans 55 and older, to 84% among 35-44 year-olds.
Adults ages 18-24 are more likely than people 25 and older to say anxiousness should qualify students for extended time on homework and tests (78% compared to 57%). This age group is also more likely to say stress should qualify students for accommodations (68% compared to 52%).
Among those who don’t support accommodations for students with mental health issues, individuals 25 and older are twice as likely as Gen Zers to say it’s because mental health issues are too hard to prove and students will abuse the privilege (43% compared to 19%).
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults were surveyed. This survey was conducted on September 24, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.