Discussing and Disclosing Difficulties
If there is any aspect of your University experience which you are having, or are likely to have, difficulty with (including social and leisure activities), it is well worth discussing this with your existing support networks. As the University or other students may be instrumental in providing new support networks, it is also advisable to let your University know about your difficulties so that they can advise or support you in a timely fashion, if/when required.
Disclosing mental health difficulties to the University can occur at any stage - before or after enrolment on a course. However, you are encouraged to do so at the earliest opportunity. For some more information about the services which may be available at your university, have a look at the UMHAN blog or contact the Mental Health Adviser at your institution.
Universities would prefer to work with you on preventing things being a problem or getting worse for you, and to anticipate difficulties you may encounter, rather than just reacting when things have gone wrong.
Data Protection and the Equality Act
A mental health disclosure is deemed to be sensitive personal information under the Data Protection Act (DPA 1998) and must be treated accordingly. Generally speaking, the information you provide will only be shared with people who need to be aware of it at the time you are disclosing.
The number of students who declare a mental health difficulty is steadily rising year on year (see for example the Higher Education Statistics Agency, under "Disability") although some choose not to disclose, as they may have recovered, may feel their difficulties aren't "that bad", or they may not identify with the "disability" label, or they may be concerned about stigma or being treated unfavourably, or may not be aware of the support available so see little benefit. It is hoped that some of the information on this website will inform your decision about disclosing.
If you do disclose mental health difficulties, the Equality Act (incorporating the Disability Discrimination Act) means that it would in fact be unlawful for anyone employed by the University to discriminate against you, and University staff will follow the Data Protection Act to ensure the information you provide is processed appropriately and sensitively.
In practice, for example, this means that a mental health disclosure does not have any bearing on whether an applicant is offered a place; this decision must be made purely on the grounds of academic suitability and any mental health‐related support requirements considered separately.
Who To Talk To
All Universities are at different stages of developing mental health support, so there may be a range of people who you can talk to directly, or whom you may be put in contact with, dependent on your University. This includes the disability office, counsellors, welfare staff, etc.
Increasingly, however, this will be a specialist member of staff with a remit to support student's experiencing mental health difficulties - a Mental Health Adviser (although their job titles and the specific remit of their roles may vary from one University to another). In general, they are there to co-ordinate support for students with mental health difficulties and to act as a point of contact throughout the duration of their studies.
Prospective students are encouraged to make a formal disclosure under the ‘disability declaration’ section on their UCAS or post-graduate application form, as it may be possible to be in contact with the mental health support staff at their institution in advance of the start of their course.
This provides an opportunity to discuss any issues, concerns, anticipated course and/or support requirements in more detail. They will also be able to provide details of other support resources available within the university and the local area: for example, how to register with a GP, referrals to community mental health teams and voluntary sector services, peer support, availability of other specialist support workers and any funding for this support.