Children, teens and college students all face certain challenges at school, and these can be even more difficult if they also have bipolar disorder. Drowsiness from medications and trouble concentrating are only a few of the problems that commonly plague bipolar students.
Laws are in place to help ensure that bipolar children and teens are able to succeed in school. There are also some things that students, parents and teachers can do. With hard work, patience and plenty of communication, it is possible for students to manage their bipolar symptoms and even graduate from college.1
Bipolar Disorder and the Classroom
There are two laws that are designed to protect bipolar students in the classroom.
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that all schools must identify any students with special needs. It goes on to require schools to provide educational services from kindergarten to the 12th grade or the student is 22 years of age.
- Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act requires schools to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate all students, including those with a learning impairment.
The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation stresses that it is also important to remember that every student is different. This means that their needs are unique. While these laws are in place to protect students with bipolar disorder, flexibility and open lines of communication are just as important.2
How Schools Can Help
There are several things schools can do to help bipolar children and teens succeed in the classroom. These include,
- Reducing the amount of homework, and extending deadlines and time limits on assignments and tests.
- If the bipolar student is having difficulty sleeping at night or fatigue is a problem, allow them to start school an hour or two later.
- Provide assistance if the bipolar disorder is making it difficult for the student to focus or sit still in the classroom.
- Ensure that there is constant communication between teachers and parents concerning the student’s progress and behavior in class.
- Have tutoring in place if the student’s bipolar disorder symptoms result in extended absences.
- Record lectures in class when the student isn’t able to concentrate due to their bipolar disorder symptoms.
- Allow the student to have full access to the bathroom and water fountain at school. This can be especially helpful in preventing classroom disruptions during a manic episode.
Schools, parents and students are also finding that participating in art, music and even sports programs can be beneficial. Some students with bipolar disorder find that these “enrichment” programs can relieve some of the stress and challenges associated with school. This often makes it a little easier for them to control their symptoms.
It has also been noted that bipolar disorder students often perform better academically in a smaller size class. Fewer distractions can make it easier for them to concentrate, especially during a manic episode.
Doing so often causes the student additional stress, and can make it even more difficult for them to successfully manage their symptoms.
If a student is falling behind in class, most educational experts recommend enrolling them in summer school.
Bipolar Disorder and College
Unfortunately college isn’t any easier for students with bipolar disorder. The stress of being away from home, along with the pressures of college can easily trigger a manic episode.
Bipolar disorder often manifests in teens and adults ages 15 to 24, and some mental health experts tie this to the increase in academic pressure that usually occurs around this time. A greater emphasis is placed on grades and when this is combined with all of the other new experiences college typically brings, many students find it overwhelming.
You are not alone if this applies to you. There are also steps you can take to manage your bipolar disorder at college.
Tips on Managing Bipolar Disorder at College
- If you think that you might have bipolar disorder it is important to speak with a licensed health care professional immediately. It is the best way to prevent any problems that could interfere with your ability to get an education.
- Remember that bipolar disorder is a treatable illness. This means that you have to take charge of your care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to control your bipolar disorder.
- Exercise is an important tool in managing bipolar disorder symptoms. Just walking to class should be able to provide you with at least 20 minutes of exercise each day.
- Try to manage your homework so you can stay on a consistent sleep schedule. It might mean that you have to miss a few parties, but it is worth it when you are able to avoid a manic episode.
- Eating a healthy diet is also important. It can also be difficult when you are away at college. Most universities have registered dieticians on staff at the campus medical center, and they can help you create a nutritious meal plan that fits your tastes and budget.
College for students with bipolar disorder is tough. This doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed. You might have to make some adjustments to your overall “life plan” and accept that it will take a little longer to graduate, and successfully control your bipolar disorder. There is nothing wrong with taking your time, especially if it helps you stay mentally and physically healthy!
Support for Bipolar Disorder at School
There are several bipolar disorder support groups for parents and students to take advantage of.
Along with licensed therapists and counselors, family and friends are often the best source of support for bipolar disorder students at any age. Peer counseling groups can become a vital support network, especially for college students dealing with the stress of being away from home for the first time.
Having a strong network of support is essential for the success of any student with bipolar disorder regardless of their age.
Bipolar Disorder and Success at School
Whether you are a student with bipolar disorder or a parent of one, it is possible to have success at school.
It will take the combined efforts of educators, parents and the student, but you can graduate with your friends even if you are dealing with bipolar disorder. Just because it makes school a little harder doesn’t mean that you have to give up.
If you believe that a school is discriminating against bipolar disorder it is important that you understand your rights. There are laws in place that are designed to ensure that everyone receives a quality education, regardless of their physical or mental disabilities.