This section contains information on the best ways to support a student who has disclosed mental health difficulties. If you are teaching or supporting a student in crisis, the resources on our Mental Health Emergencies page may be more useful.
Most people experience periods of stress and personal difficulty at some point in their lives. Deadlines, examinations, worries about achieving the required standard, and the pressures of short terms can become difficulties, which impact on study and life at University.
- Key Support Actions
- What are mental health difficulties?
- How do mental health difficulties impact on study?
- Supporting and teaching students with mental health difficulties
- The Equality Act (2010)
Key Support Actions
- Be clear on deadlines and course requirements
- Summarise at the end of meetings/discussions
- Approach instructions and feedback calmly; students with mental health difficulties are not motivated by forceful criticism
- Keep in touch
What are mental health difficulties?
The term 'mental health difficulties' is an umbrella term used to describe a range of diagnoses and support requirements, which may be long-term and may be fluctuating. The stigma experienced by people with such difficulties is considerable and is likely to impact on their ability to discuss their difficulties with those around them. The diagnoses likely to be covered by this label will include anxiety, depression, bipolar affective disorder (formerly manic depression), eating disorders, and schizophrenia.
For further information, please see the Counselling Service Welfare Guidance leaflets.
How do mental health difficulties impact on study?
The impact of a mental health difficulty will vary from individual to individual and will depend upon a range of factors including time since diagnosis, and support available. Students with mental health difficulties may need support in the following areas:
- Fatigue: medication may increase fatigue in the mornings and a change in medication may mean a student has additional difficulties in the interim period
- Anxiety, including social anxiety
- Poor concentration
- Low mood
- Auditory and visual hallucinations: these are less common but may also impact on concentration
Supporting and teaching students with mental health difficulties
Many principles of inclusive teaching are beneficial for students with mental health difficulties. Particular examples are highlighted below:
- Timetables to take account of medication needs and appointments for support
- Well-structured lectures and supervisions so that if concentration is poor the student can easily find their place again
- Deadlines in advance and clearly described academic tasks
- Provide legible written feedback, including good points and aspects requiring further development. This is useful to the student as it avoids the need to record feedback while discussing it and provides a helpful reference.
- Firm management of group discussions to manage any difficult conversations. This helps to reduce any anxiety felt by the student about taking part.
These are adjustments which should be available to students with mental health difficulties, although they may not be relevant to all.
- Prompt intervention in the case of any difficulties, to identify rapid deterioration and enable early strategies for support
- Extended loan period for books, to enable management of energy levels
- Access to mentoring and study skills support, to enable good planning and efficient working, and to facilitate appropriate coping strategies
- Additional preparation and support for field work, presentations, and years abroad, to minimise stress and to anticipate further barriers in a timely way
- Regular meetings with Tutor/DoS, to keep everyone informed of issues and to enable difficulties to be addressed prior to reaching a crisis
- Taking exams in college (or other quiet spaces), to avoid distractions and pressure from peers to debrief or otherwise rehash the stress
The Equality Act (2010)
The Equality Act protects people with mental health difficulties when their impairment is substantial and long-term. In such cases there will be a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and not to treat less favourably. Experiencing short-term personal and emotional problems does not bring protection under the Act.