“Will I be treated differently?” “Will I be a burden?” “What will they think of me?” These could be some of the reasons why students might choose not to disclose a mental health condition.
A survey by the Equality Challenges Unit, found that around half of students and staff had not officially disclosed their mental health difficulties to their university. As a result, they are not receiving the support or adjustments they are entitled to. The report also suggests that one barrier to disclosing could be the lack of clarity within the process of disclosure.
"If I decide to disclose a mental health difficulty to my university, what happens next?" This is the question that the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) wants to answer by re-launching the I Chose to Disclose Campaign. Not knowing what will happen when you disclose is hard. It’s an individual choice, and UMHAN is not here to tell you to get up and go disclose. However, we want to advise you on what you should expect when disclosing and encourage you to think about your rights.
Expect confidentiality and to be treated equally
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.
Expect to have some discussion about how your difficulties may affect your university experiences
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, depending 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 students experiencing mental health difficulties — a Mental Health Adviser or a Specialist Mental Health Mentor (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 student journey.
You may be entitled to reasonable adjustments
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 the course. This provides an opportunity to discuss any issues, concerns, and anticipated course and/or support requirements in more detail. The university will also be able to provide details of other support resources available within the institution and in 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.
Call for Action!
We’re asking people who disclosed their mental health difficulties during their time at university to send us a short video explaining how they felt about disclosing, what happened after they disclosed, what kind of support they received, and how their life has changed after disclosing. We’d like to know how they managed their difficulties during their time at university and how they think their life would be now if they hadn’t disclosed.
By collecting this information, UMHAN hopes to increase the information available for current and prospective students about what happens if you disclose a mental health difficulty to the university — to remove any potential barriers, and to empower and help you to make an informed decision about whether you choose to disclose or not.
There is no right or wrong decision in disclosing and it is a unique and individual choice. However, seeking support from a university had a positive or very positive effect on work/study for 78% of students and 74% of staff who had chosen to disclose - ECU Report (2015). UMHAN believes that deciding to disclose can be a positive and empowering experience.
Marta is a Development and Operations Coordinator for UMHAN. More information on the 'I Chose to Disclose' campaign, and on UMHAN's work to support student mental health, is available on their website and twitter page.
Indicator 2.2.4 of the Student Wellbeing and Mental Health Instrument in the ProtectED Code of Practice requires member universities to run dedicated Student Wellbeing and Mental Health Orientation for new students who have disclosed a mental health difficulty on their application form.
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