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The Why, When, What and How of Disclosure in College

If and when to disclose your mental health condition can be a hard choice to make and even more difficult to actually do. There are always pros and cons to disclosure and disclosing to your school (including four-year universities, two-year community colleges and vocational training programs) is no different. However, there are often additional factors to consider when determining whether to disclose your mental health condition while attending post-secondary school. This section outlines these factors to help you determine what is best when it comes to disclosing your mental health condition within the campus setting.

This section is adapted from the Office of Disability Employment Policy fact sheet, The Why, When, What, and How of Disclosure. Available at http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/wwwh.htm.

Why should I disclose in the postsecondary setting?

As a high school student with a mental health condition, you did not need to share information about your disability to receive accommodations because the school and your parents or guardians were there to assist you with arranging accommodations. Also, you had the support of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that entitles students with mental health conditions to receive free appropriate public education. Once you leave high school, the IDEA does not apply to you. Instead, as a student with a mental health condition, you are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Both of these laws require that covered individuals living with a mental health condition must be provided with reasonable accommodations if the individual discloses his or her mental health condition and the institution is a covered entity. These laws do not specify the process for obtaining accommodations in the same manner in which the IDEA does. Therefore, it is up to you to share information about your mental health condition to make sure you receive the accommodations you need.

After high school, accommodations are usually provided by the program's disability support service only if you disclose your mental health condition and request accommodations. Some reasons for disclosing your mental health condition in college include:

  • obtaining information about available supports and services;
  • discussing academic requirements and practical components of your course of study; and
  • ensuring that faculty members implement the reasonable accommodations you require in order for you to be successful in your courses.

When should I disclose my mental health condition?

When to disclose usually depends on what kind of accommodations you may need. Generally, there are five moments when it may be necessary to disclose your mental health condition:

  • Prior to Enrollment: If you need accommodations during the application process.
  • At The Time of Enrollment: If you anticipate needing accommodations to complete your courses and to be successful in college. It may be best to disclose your mental health condition before you experience struggles related to a lack of services and supports.
  • During Your Course of Study: If you discover that you need certain accommodations while taking a class.
  • After Being Diagnosed: If you are diagnosed with a mental health condition while attending college and learn you will need accommodations to successfully complete your program.
  • Never: If no accommodations are needed or you can make the accommodations necessary to succeed in school.

How should I disclose my mental health condition?

It's best to first decide your personal privacy boundaries concerning the amount and type of information you want to share with others. If you choose to disclose your mental health condition to receive accommodations, make sure you have enough time to thoroughly explain your needs. During the conversation, donít forget to focus on your strengths and abilities and be self-determined and practical about the services and supports you need.

What to disclose about my mental health condition?

Post-secondary settings may vary regarding the information they need from you to provide accommodations. Below is information you may want to be prepared to share with your schoolís Disability Resource Center:

  • Information about your mental health condition, including any assessments and, if requested, documentation of your mental health condition.
  • Types of academic accommodations that have worked for you in the past.
  • Types of academic accommodations you anticipate needing in the post-secondary setting.
  • How your mental health condition and life experiences can contribute to your success in college.
  • How your mental health condition impacts your capacity to learn and study effectively.
  • You may also want to meet with your high school counselor or special education coordinator to have your records sent to your collegeís Disability Resource Center. A written statement from your health care provider, including information about your condition and accommodations you may need can also be valuable.

Who should I disclose my mental health condition to?

To receive accommodations at the various points of times described above requires that you decide about disclosing your mental health condition to those involved in the accommodation process. This may include the admissions officer, the schoolís Disability Resource Center staff or your academic advisor.

Itís a good idea to begin your inquiry process with the Disability Resource Center so you can learn what the specific disclosure procedures are for your school. Some postsecondary settings discourage students with mental health conditions from disclosing directly to faculty because of student confidentiality issues.

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