Mental illnesses (MI) refer to health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these) that may result in distress and/or functional problems in social, work/school and/or family activities.


Common MIs in university students include Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The causes and treatment associated with different MIs vary, so are the corresponding symptoms, side effects of medications (if applicable), and impacts to students’ daily functioning in different aspects, some of which are listed below.


General Difficulties Encountered by Students with Mental Illness


1. Cognitions:

- Difficulties is sustaining attention
- Difficulties in processing and/or remembering/recalling information
- Struggles with irrational thinking, negative thoughts and/or even suicidal thoughts
- Difficulties in planning, organizing, and problem-solving
- Speech disturbances (e.g. disorganized and illogical speech)


2. Emotions:

- Feeling sad or anxious often or all the time
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Feeling irritable or easily frustrated


3. Behaviours:

- Loss of interest in activities that use to bring enjoyment
- Frequent tiredness and exhaustion
- Insomnia or sleep disturbance
- Loss of appetite or eating disturbance
- Experience physical aches/pains that may not improve with treatment
- Self-harming behaviours
- Neglect of personal cleanliness and hygiene
- Self-withdrawal or isolation


Useful Tips for Supporting Students with Mental Illness


• Communication:

1. Check with the student if any special learning arrangements are needed
2. Acknowledge the student’s feelings and difficulties encountered
3. Remain calm and listen
4. Refer the student to helping professionals/units/useful resources


• Inclusive Teaching:

1. Be alert of any drastic changes in the student’s academic performance (e.g. frequent absence from classes, frequent failure in assignment completion, missing tests and/or exams without prior notice)
2. Provide lecture materials prior to class to facilitate students’ preparation for class
3. Permit audio/video recordings of lectures to facilitate students’ revision/learning after class
4. Set clear expectations (e.g. advise students to jot down questions which will be addressed at the end of the class)
5. Encourage student to seek support by providing relevant information of academic and/or professional support
6. Provide allowance for class attendance if needed
7. Discuss special learning and/or exam arrangements privately with students concerned
8. Acknowledge and show respect for diversity in learning needs


• Assignment & Assessment:

1. Provide clear guidelines/instructions for individual and group assignments
2. Break down assignments into smaller tasks that may help manage workloads
3. Consider alternative assessment modes
4. Consider extensions in assignment deadlines
5. Consider extra time and supervised breaks in quizzes/tests/exams if necessary
6. Arrange a separate venue for quizzes/tests/exams to minimize distractions and stress




1. Information on Different Types of Mental Illnesses (National Institute of Mental Health, United States)

2. Inclusive Teaching for Students with Illnesses (Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training, Australia)