How can DSA help students with a mental health condition?

“I kind of felt like I wasn’t eligible for what I was about to be given, but she (the assessor) reassured me that what I was feeling was necessary for me to Man sat on sofa covering his eyes with is handsget all this extra help” – Maddie.

A YouGov study conducted in 2016 revealed that one in four students have mental health difficulties. The transition into university can be overwhelming for students who must manage both the excitement of new-found independence and the overwhelming academic, social and financial pressures. University can be difficult to navigate for everyone, but the fact not all experiences conform to the “best years of your life” stereotype can make some students reluctant to accept or disclose their mental health difficulties. 

In January 2018, and perhaps due to the improving awareness surrounding mental health, 94% of universities have reported an increase in students demanding counselling services. Whilst that would imply there are more students disclosing a mental health condition to their higher education institution, it is dismaying to discover that the number of students dropping out of university due to mental health is still increasing

It is an acknowledged problem that university wellbeing services are over-stretched, under-resourced and unable to accommodate all students in a timely fashion. Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a UK government grant which can provide alternative, personalised support to level the playing field and see students through their studies.

Can your mental health condition make you eligible for DSA?

A recent survey carried out by the Department of Education in January 2019 found that students with a mental health condition were more likely to feel uninformed about DSA than students with other types of disability. It also revealed that many were under the impression that you are only eligible for DSA if you need specialist equipment or have a physical disability. 

This is not the case. 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. Medical evidence to this effect would be required to support any application for additional funding. 

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 can DSA help?

DSA can provide a tailored package of technology and non-medical support to help you succeed in your studies. This could include a computer or laptop, or a printer/scanner to save travelling to the library during periods of ill health. You may find it useful to have software or apps to record 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. Depending on your university or course, you might be eligible for flexibility around absences and deadlines and adjustments to your timetable. 

Support is not one size fits allClaim It logo #ClaimItDSA

The most important thing to understand is that support provided differs person to person, and is based on your specific needs, circumstances and course requirements.  One of the steps to receiving DSA is to attend a study needs assessment, which is a one-on-one session with an assessor who will identify your needs and prepare a report recommending the extra support. The assessment is your opportunity to discuss any challenges you face in education, including the ways in which your course is assessed and taught, and is steered by the amount of information you share.

However, the following experience of Carys, who has Generalised Anxiety Disorder, shared by Student Minds is a good example of the variety and type of support you might receive through DSA if you have been made eligible for a mental health condition:

“Here is a list of just some of the support I will be receiving this year…

A reading software to help me with.... you guessed it... my reading. The main feature I'm looking forward to with this is being able to have information read aloud to me, so I can follow the text and focus on it more... A mind-mapping software to help organise and link my ideas and research... A note-taking software to allow any PowerPoint slides, my written notes and the lecture recordings to be stored in the same place…A mentor to help me with things like stress and time management.”

Not sure if you are eligible for DSA? You can find out now with our free Higher Education Support Checker

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