Language used in a university setting may be different to what you are used to - at school the terminology is often "Special Needs" or "Learning Support" - but you may find that the word "disability" is used more frequently in Higher Education. This is because of the legislation which protects people with long term health conditions (Equality Act 2010). Even if you do not think of yourself as "disabled" you may well meet the criteria necessary to receive crucial support.
Discussing and Disclosing a Mental Health Condition
Is this relevant to me?
All students at university can access support for their mental health and wellbeing. There's a huge range available and you can have a look at our "What support is available" page for more information. A lot of the support does not require you to tell anyone about your mental health, but some support is more specialised and does need you to share this information to access it, and sometimes provide evidence of your condition.
If your mental health, when at its worst, can have an impact on your ability to study, then the University has a legal duty to support you and provide you with adjustments. This might include, for example, rest breaks in exams, or extensions to deadlines. You should also be able to get some support if your health effects you living and socialising independently, although this may come from outside of the University. Many Universities can help you with living arrangements, within their own accommodation; for example, if you have OCD you might need your own ensuite bathroom and kitchen facilities.
If you had exam adjustments or other support at school they will not automatically be replicated even if you have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP). So it is important to make sure that you speak to the University support service as early as possible to ensure that any adjustments can be put in place.
The number of students who declare they have a mental health condition is steadily rising year on year (see for example the Higher Education Statistics Agency, under "Disability"). However some choose not to disclose, as they may have recovered, may feel their difficulties aren't "that bad", they may not identify with the "disability" label, they may be concerned about stigma or being treated unfavourably, or may not be aware of the support available so see little benefit.
We hope that some of the information on this webpage will inform your decision about disclosing.
You can share information about your mental health condition to the University at any stage - before or after enrolment on a course. However, you are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.
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.
Universities have a duty to proactively anticipate the needs of students with any long term health condition (disability) and so you may find that you can access some of the things you need without providing the University with your personal information. However, this is likely to be limited, especially in terms of assessment and exams.
Many Support Services now operate a triaging system to make sure that you receive the support that is best for you. However, general wellbeing and counselling provision can be separate from teaching and learning adjustments, and so it is important not to assume that if you register with one service you will automatically be registered for all. Please ask Support Staff at the University for more information. It is likely that you will be asked to provide some form of medical evidence to register for exam and other reasonable adjustments.
Will sharing info about my mental health effect my offer?
This is probably the most common question asked by students with a mental health condition applying to university. A mental health disclosure does not have any bearing on whether an applicant is offered a place; legally, this decision must be made purely on the grounds of academic suitability and any mental health‐related support requirements considered separately.
But I want to apply for a professional course...
Nowadays, people with mental health conditions work as doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers and lawyers. Even professional courses with Fitness to Practice elements such as Medicine, other healthcare professions, Social Work and Teaching are subject to the same Equality Act legislation which means they can't discriminate because of a long term health condition meaning you can confidently share this information. Most Fitness to Practice processes talk about students and staff having insight into their condition, meaning that their condition is managed, you seek support when needed and know when you might be unsafe to work.
All Fitness to Practice courses are regulated by professional bodies, and it might be reassuring to research their guidance about this. Some examples are:
- General Medical Council - Supporting medical students with mental health conditions
- Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) - The Fitness to Practice Process
How can I tell the university?
On your application form
If you are applying to university you're encouraged to make a formal disclosure under the "Disability/Special Needs" section on your UCAS or post-graduate application form by selecting "mental health condition" (may be a tick box on some forms).
Some people decide they want to talk about their mental health in their personal statement - this can be an empowering way to talk about how you have already overcome barriers to study, or you may think it's important to explain why you want to study a particular course.
This is not the right place to discuss your support needs (e.g. if you are likely to need exam accommodations, or think you might need some additional support) - you'll normally be contacted separately to ask about these if you have indicated you have a mental health condition on your application form.
- Information shared about your mental health condition in your personal statement will not be read by support services staff. This is likely to only be read by admissions staff and although saved, will not be recorded on your notes.
Sharing information when you are already at uni
Different universities have different processes, but you should normally register with the Student Services team. (see our separate page for more info about the different support available). Many will have some kind of registration form, or you may be able to speak to someone at a drop-in session. You can choose to tell your tutor, or other member of staff in the first instance, but specialist support, and exam accommodations normally need you to register with a separate team.
What happens to my information?
Each university will normally run a data report which shows which students have disclosed which conditions in the "Disability/Special Needs section" on their application form. They will then get in contact with you to ask you more about your support requirements. This provides an opportunity to discuss any issues, concerns, anticipated course and/or support requirements in more detail. This might include asking you about any special exam provisions you received, such as sitting in a separate room. 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.
They will then often draw up a support plan, which you will be given a copy of, and which will be forwarded to any other relevant staff.
Data Protection and the Equality Act
A mental health disclosure is deemed to be sensitive personal information under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR 2018) and must be treated accordingly. Generally speaking, the information you provide will only be shared with people who need to know, at the time you are disclosing, unless there is risk to life.
You have a right for your information to be protected.
If you do disclose a mental health condition, 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 General Data Protection Regulation to ensure the information you provide is processed appropriately and sensitively.
Universities should also be clear with you about what they are doing with any information you share and where this is being stored. You can ask them for this information if it's not obvious - it's a very common concern and they won't mind.
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.
There will often be a specialist member of staff with a remit to support students with mental health conditions - a Mental Health Adviser. In general, they are there to co-ordinate support for students with mental health conditions and to act as a point of contact throughout the duration of their studies. They will be used to talking to and supporting students with a wide range of experiences, including those who have been sectioned, members of the LGBTQ+ community and those who are estranged from their parents. They can help you with safety planning.
What else should I do to prepare?
It's good to think also about what support networks you currently have - your parents, family or friends - and how you might cope without these. The University you are applying to (or are already studying at) may have peer support schemes, and/or contact with local services and support groups.
If you take medication, you should talk to your GP about this - many students find it easier to change to a GP closer to the university on arrival, but some choose to stick with their normal GP. Either way, you will need to be prepared to order prescriptions and get your medication when needed.
It's really important to think about your existing support from professionals such as CAMHS or a therapist. You should ask them about how to transfer your care if you are moving to a new area. This can take a long time, so it's worth having these conversations early on. If you have input from Social Services they will also need to do a new assessment. You can find out more about this process and your rights on the Mind website.
You may be eligible to apply for Disabled Students' Allowances, which can help to provide support such as 1:1 mentoring. For more information, please see our separate webpage.
My Study My Way is a tool which can help you think about what support you might need.