Learning to support students

The absence of a student disability service at the University of Glasgow when I had my first breakdown 15 years ago stands in stark contrast to its existence now that I have returned to complete an honours degree in English language.

In 1993, when I was in my second year of studies, I became increasingly distressed as my depression and psychotic symptoms overwhelmed me. Although I was attending regular appointments at the university counselling service, I was not offered academic support, and my studies suffered irreparably. Academic staff and fellow students had little understanding of problems such as mine and did not know how to respond.

The sensitive approach of the disability service now reflects increased acceptance of mental health problems. Students with a mental health problem and those with a physical disability or any special need such as dyslexia are also users.

My initial assessment at the service was thorough, and my appointed disability adviser was well informed and sympathetic. My support needs have been made available to “Departmental Disability Co-ordinator Contacts” through the University’s online websurf service. The academic provisions made for me include allowance for absence from classes and availability of class materials when I am ill. I am also given 10 minutes extra time for each hour in examinations.

It is possible for students to apply for disabled students allowance through the service. This could provide finance for required equipment such as a laptop or for one-to-one tutoring. I am studying for fewer academic credits than are required for the allowance this year, but am happily managing my studies and am free to apply in future.

In my case, I was able to approach the disability service myself, and did not need to be referred by mental health services. When I attended an initial appointment with my studies adviser, she noted that I had ticked “mental health difficulties” as a disability on my application form, and informed me about the campus service.

Comprehensive information about the student disability service, including a 15-minute film, is provided on the University of Glasgow’s website – www.gla.ac.uk – under “Services A – Z”. Mental health or social workers can find telephone and e-mail contacts here to help arrange an initial appointment for a service user or their representative.

All in all it’s a big and welcome improvement

Helen Waddell is a mental health service user

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