“Very simple work, in advance, can help students with a smooth transition to university.” – Lydia Pell, UMHAN Chair, speaking at the conference in London.
The National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP)
Autumn 2014 Conference – Supporting Students with Mental Health Issues
London: 4th November | Manchester: 11th November
This month, the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) were invited to present at the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP) autumn conferences on the topic of ‘Supporting Students with Mental Health Issues’. The conference offered insight into the various perspectives of key identities in the topic of student mental health; from the practitioners’ perspective, to the student voice, to what we can interpret from the statistics.
“We need to be listening to the voices of students with mental health difficulties.”
– Dan Doran, UMHAN Secretary, speaking at the conference in Manchester.
A special mention should be given to the two students, invited by Student Minds, who chose to speak about their personal experiences of being a student with mental health difficulties. The student-speakers offered insight in to the support and services that they had accessed whilst at university and gave suggestions of what more could be done when supporting and engaging with students with mental health difficulties. Whilst the students discussed their own experiences, which gave a different feel to the London and Manchester conferences, a shared reflection became clear: in their experience, creative and combined support services were more appropriate for them, than the traditional routes of support, and that students should be made “aware, not only of their traditional options, but also the alternative options… something that encompasses the body and mind.” (Suggestion from student speaking in London).
Both student-speakers highlighted that to engage with students, institutions should make use of “more student led support” (student speaking in Manchester), perhaps by “having a PhD student mentor [as this may be seen as] less intimidating than speaking to a tutor” (student speaking in London). It was also suggested that to break down the barriers of support, students could be made more aware that mental health difficulties can affect anyone, including university staff, so as to lead by example and combat the social isolation felt. This led on to the idea that there could be greater awareness about disclosing as “[students should] know that they can and how to [disclose]” (student speaking in Manchester).
“Up until my third year, I didn’t know about the support available at university. I didn’t know people with mental health difficulties had access to Disabled Students’ Allowance.” – Student speaking at the conference in Manchester.
Reflecting on the conferences, one theme seemed to be highlighted throughout each presentation: “The importance of putting support in place early” – Chris Brill, Equality Challenge Unit.
This theme was entwined with one reason why, for many students, support is often not put in place early enough: the problem of under disclosure and discrepancy between prevalence of mental health difficulties and the rates of disclosed disabilities. Whilst this discrepancy may be due to those with mental health difficulties not identifying with the term ‘disability’ (although it is encompassed under ‘disability’ in accordance with the Equality Act and a mental health difficulty can, on occasion, be disabling), the presentations highlighted the idea that this problem may be exacerbated if we are unaware of what happens next in the process of disclosure. If you are a prospective student, what happens after you have ticked the ‘disability’ box on the UCAS form? If you, as a current student, choose to disclose to an institution, what is the next step?
“One difficulty that we have in this area is being too reactive, instead of preventative and proactive”. – Comments from a conference delegate (London).
The Equality Challenge Unit research regarding disclosure within a Higher Education setting outlined the need to be clear about what happens during the disclosure process. Following on from this, UMHANs new campaign ‘I Chose To Disclose’ will provide current and prospective students with more information about what happens if one makes the decision to disclose, allowing people to make an informed choice.
If you would like to share a personal experience of a time when choosing to disclose has been constructive, please have a read of our blogging guidelines and let us know.
“We want more students to declare in advance… We want more health care professionals to know about Disabled Students’ Allowance… [In the future], ideally universities become so well adapted and adjusted to providing support to students with mental health difficulties, that they don’t need to employ Mental Health Advisers.” – Lydia Pell, UMHAN Chair (London).
To see the UMHAN brochure and presentation
for the NADP conferences, have a look at the
Conferences Section of our website.
Dan Doran, UMHAN Chair
All All Party Parliamentary Group Conference Disclosure I Chose To Disclose Mental Health Mental Health Adviser Mental Health First Aid Mental Health Inquiry Personal Experience Press Release Student Voice Support Available Uni Mental Health Day Year Abroad Youth Select Committee