With the start of the academic year, there’s lots of talk about the challenges of settling into university and moving to a new environment… But there is a great deal of support out there and so moving to university needn't be as daunting as it seems. As a student, you have access to a variety of specialist support. Don’t forget that Universities and services know that challenges tend to fall hand in hand with the university experience.
When you have mental health difficulties, you are often encouraged to access treatment, such as medication or talking therapies. Articles (such as Dealing with Depression at University) that focus on the demand of university often highlight the important work that counselling or health care services do in this area, but it is also worth noting that these may not be right for everyone and indeed may take some time for someone to see the benefits.
It is important to remember that students will encounter practical issues, whether undergoing therapy or not, and that there are additional resources available and adjustments that can be made for students experiencing mental health difficulties.
If you are experiencing a mental health difficulty, or have done in the past, find out about the practical support that is available in your area. It may be worthwhile visiting your university’s website to find out the range of support they offer. In addition to counselling services, this can include student advice services, support networks, and mental health advisers. Other services that you could consider are those that are led by students at your university, this may include Student Minds peer support groups or the Nightline listening and information service.
It is also worthwhile considering the specific issues you encounter in relation to your course. In this context, it is considered reasonable for a university to make adjustments which take into account the needs of a student who uses, say, a wheelchair by ensuring their physical access to the course; many do not realise that experiencing mental health difficulties means that you may be entitled to similar resources or arrangements to similarly facilitate access to your course. See below, for more information on accessing these resources.
“Most students do not disclose their mental health problems to staff, primarily due to fear of discrimination…”
As well as the challenges which are so often talked about, university presents new and exciting opportunities, even within the realm of mental health. Deciding to disclose mental health difficulties can be a positive and empowering experience which may lead to you developing a wealth of coping strategies and becoming more aware of yourself and your capabilities. Whilst many students may fear disclosing due to the ‘discrimination’ suggested in articles, the Equality Act ensures that it is unlawful for anyone employed by the university to discriminate against you.
Disclosing difficulties is a unique and personal process and, if you should choose to do so, it can be beneficial and allow the university to put support in place early. When disclosing your mental health difficulties, you should expect to be treated equally and to have some discussion about how your difficulties may or may not affect your university experiences. After disclosing, you may feel less pressure and potential issues could be headed off before they occur. You may also be entitled to receive what the Equality Act calls ‘reasonable adjustments’. Through discussion and negotiation, these adjustments can be designed and implemented to enable you to fulfil your potential at university. You may have access to these through applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances.
“The amount of students seeking help for depression with higher education has more than doubled in recent years…”
An important aspect that these articles do communicate is that if you are experiencing mental health difficulties then you are far from alone and even when it may feel isolating, the likelihood is that in most University classes, there will be people whose studies are affected by mental health difficulties. If you should decide to disclose these difficulties, you will not be alone in that aspect either.
When disclosing your difficulties, you may be eligible to receive Disabled Students’ Allowance which is a non-means tested grant and can fund additional costs that you may incur as a result of mental health difficulties while studying. Although you may not identify with the term ‘disabled’, mental health difficulties can, at times, be disabling and universities would prefer to work with you on preventing things from getting worse, and in anticipating difficulties which you may encounter, having a proactive approach rather than just reacting when something has gone wrong.
Mental Health Advisers may work alongside the disability services or counselling services but it is not their role to be counsellors. A Mental Health Adviser will be able to support and encourage you to consider your rights and think about additional resources which may help you to access education. As well as adjustments and resources, this will also include signposting or referral to therapeutic and medical services.
University can be challenging but specialist support is available. Make yourself aware of the support that exists.