Faculty hesitant to disclose mental health conditions, survey finds

A study published by Disability Studies Quarterly highlights mental health conditions among university faculty members and how far they go in seeking support from their campuses, writes Colleen Flaherty for Inside Higher Ed.

Margaret Price, study co-author and associate professor of English and disability studies at Ohio State University, recruited 267 participants for the survey. Each participant had self-reported having a mental disability, mental illness, or related mental health history.

Price and a team of researchers then sought information about the mental health resources that were available at the participants' institutions. It turned out that 70% of respondents had little to no knowledge of the disability accommodations of which they could take advantage. And 87% had never used any accommodations at all.

While a number of faculty respondents (62%) had told someone on campus about their condition, Flaherty writes, far fewer of them had told students, administrators, or the disability services office:

  • 21% of respondents had told their department chairs;
  • 20% had told their students about either the diagnoses or about an experience related to it;
  • 6% had told their dean or provost; and
  • Only 4% had told an office of disability services about their condition.

That such a small number of faculty participants spoke to an office of disability services regarding their mental disability shows that there still exists a stigma about mental disabilities, the study's authors say.  

The authors also say respondents demonstrated a strong desire for privacy. Participants feared that revealing information about their mental health condition would hurt their credibility or otherwise be a "source of gossip." These two issues—stigma and privacy—came up repeatedly in the survey's open-ended section.

Mark Salzer, a co-author of the study and chair of rehabilitation sciences at Temple University, says colleges have more work to do when it comes to accommodating faculty with mental health disabilities—not only because accommodations are required by law, but also because they can lead to greater productivity.  

Demand for mental health services is higher than ever

For example, Salzer recommends accommodations for faculty might include spreading out their course schedule to teach three courses in fall, three in spring, and two in summer—rather than four in the fall and four in the spring. Another example he suggests is scheduling all of a faculty member's courses during certain hours of the day.

The authors recommend colleges remove any ambiguity about resources that are available to support faculty with mental disabilities. This could mean ensuring that policies are consistent, rather than being case-by-case in nature (Donachie, Education Dive, 6/9; Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 6/8).

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