DSAs and mental health - a footnote on loneliness and disillusion

A National Union of Students (NUS) study conducted in May 2013 shows that one in five students consider themselves to have a mental health problem. New students face enormous pressure to be having the time of their lives, when many are struggling with academic, personal or peer-related issues.

After launching an investigative campaign in early December 2015 The Guardian’s student blog site received more than 200 stories from students struggling with mental health issues,. "I stay up all night crying" was a common phrase.

Support our DSA CLaim It CampaignCan mental health issues be eligible for DSAs?

According to the eligibility guidelines on Gov.uk, a mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. Your condition is ‘long term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months. In this situation, students could be eligible for DSAs, although any application for funding would require the person to present medical evidence of their condition.

What are the symptoms?

Experiencing any of the following difficulties while studying could suggest you would benefit from a DSA needs assessment:

  • Maintaining concentration and attention.
  • Side effects from medication such as drowsiness and nausea.
  • Low motivation and self-confidence.
  • Fatigue from insomnia, or oversleeping.
  • Higher levels of absence.
  • Difficulty organising your thoughts and planning your workload.
  • Worrying about or inability to start or complete assignments.
  • Intrusive thoughts and worries.
  • Difficulty participating in classes due to low mood.

How could DSAs help someone with mental issues?

If you are eligible for funding then DSAs can provide a tailored package of technology and other support to help you succeed in your studies. This could include a computer to aid study, or a printer and scanner to save travelling to the library during periods of ill health. You may find it useful to have a digital voice recorder to use in lectures and seminars to ensure you have taken in all the information.

Software may be available to assist with organising thoughts or ideas and weekly sessions with a mentor could help with stress management. In addition, your tutors will be guided (with your permission) on how to support you with different learning activities and work patterns.

For example mental health charity Mind identifies common forms of support including flexibility around absences and deadlines, adjustments to your timetable and one on one advice and support.

You can also speak to your GP or student nurse – or your student union should help point you in the direction of relevant medical professionals. They can help if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or other problems that are interfering with your life, says Mind.

Everyone is different

The most important thing to understand is that every person’s need and course requirements are different. DSAs do not provide a checklist of solutions but will always reflect the specific circumstances and needs of each student and AbilityNet's experts can provide a one-to-one assessment to understand the issues and provide recommendations.

However the following experience of a fresher who posted on The Student Room is a good example of the mix of support which has helped him succeed:

“I have depression and anxiety and recently applied for DSAs. My recommendations include: laptop (with anti-virus and warranty lasting the duration of my course), an ergonomic pack which includes a board to raise the laptop, printer, money towards consumables , non-core textbook allowance, traditional mentoring, a post-grad mentor, 25% extra time in exams, use of the click & collect system at the library, more library assistance and the ability to extend loans, a special pen that can record lectures, money towards an internet allowance, computer software for planning essays and proofreading, a smaller room to sit exams in, and insurance for all my equipment.”

What next?