Support at University

We know around 2% of the students in your university are likely to have this condition. There are ways that you can be supported through your education.

What Can Universities do to help?:

Reasonable Adjustments

The 2010 Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales requires publicly-funded universities to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable people with disabilities to study without being at a disadvantage. The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and 2005 Special Educational Needs & Disability Order in Northern Ireland works very similarly.

In this context, ‘reasonable’ means that it must be effective, financially viable (often with the help of Disabled Students’ Allowance), fulfil health and safety requirements, and not disadvantage other students. An extra consideration for students in some vocational fields, including medicine and nursing, is that the reasonable adjustments must also fit in with what is required by the relevant professional body, such as the General Medical Council or Nursing and Midwifery Council. This means that adjustment made cannot affect the safety of that individual in future practice.

Examples of reasonable adjustments:

  • Extending coursework deadlines
  • Extra time/rests during exams
  • Time off when BDD is especially bad
  • Support from welfare and counselling staff
  • Taking exams in separate exam halls
  • Being excused from whole-class presentations

Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs)

DSAs are designed to ensure that students who have a long term health condition or disability are not disadvantaged in accessing their University studies. You do not pay this money back, but it is there to provide support as and when you need it. It is not means tested – the amount you receive depends upon your individual needs.

You will need to provide some evidence of your condition to apply for this. In many cases an existing letter you have from a health professional will be enough – but there is an easy to complete form you can ask your GP or specialist to use if you don’t have something already.

Why should I apply?

Many students with long term mental health conditions apply for DSAs, because it means they can then access 1:1 support from a Specialist Mental Health Mentor, Counselling and some other university services can often have long waiting lists – mentoring, on the other hand, can provide you with regular input from a mental health professional. You might be recommended an hour or more a week, and you can usually arrange this quite flexibly with your mentor, depending on their schedule.

Research shows that DSA has a positive impact on students’ experience at university and their satisfaction with their course.

But I’m not “disabled”

Many students who apply for DSAs do not consider themselves as “disabled”. Language used in a university setting may be different to what you are used to – at school the terminology is often “Special Needs” or “Learning Support” – but you may find that the word “disability” is used more frequently in Higher Education. This is because of the legislation which protects people with long term health conditions (Equality Act 2010). Even if you do not think of yourself as “disabled” you may well meet the criteria necessary to receive crucial support.

Students with long term mental health condition with or without a formal diagnosis can apply. The criteria is that your condition must have lasted or be expected to last longer than 12 months.

For more information check this page out.

Telling Uni about your BDD

Do I have to share this information?

All students at university can access support for their mental health and wellbeing. There’s a huge range available and you can have a look at UMHAN’s “What support is available” page for more information. A lot of the support does not require you to tell anyone about your mental health, but some support is more specialised and does need you to share this information to access it, and sometimes provide evidence of your condition.

Why should I tell them?

Universities support a wide range of students with a wide range of long term health conditions. Some of these are common, like dyslexia, and some less so, like HIV or rare genetic conditions. Most unis now have specialist mental health support teams, who are professionally trained. It’s important to tell someone at uni about your condition if you need adjustments, for example, with your exams; staff can also help you with accommodation needs, for example if you need an ensuite room for health/mental health reasons. It’s also good to have someone’s contact details if you run into any problems or just need some advice – sharing this information before things reach crisis point means many issues can be avoided.

Will sharing this information affect my grades or offer of a place?

No – universities are legally obliged to ensure that they do not discriminate against you because of a disability or other “protected characteristic”, such as being black or your sexual identity. You will find that universities have very diverse populations in general, and that they are used to supporting students with a range of different health and mental health conditions.

Some courses may require you to undertake an occupational health assessment, but this should be clear on any course materials, and is only for professional courses like medicine. Even so, your offer will not be impacted unless there are very serious concerns about your ability to undertake the course. If you are anxious about this, you should contact the university’s disability team to talk it through.

Who will know?

Professionally trained student services staff will be bound by the same confidentiality rules as your nurse or GP. They should clearly tell you about storing your sensitive information and check with you before sharing this with anyone else. If information needs to be shared, for example to make sure you get some assessment adjustments such as extra time, the student services professionals will normally be able to share very general information with your academic department – for example “a mental health condition” – at your request. They do not need to share medical evidence or detail. You can talk this through with your adviser.

If you speak to someone in your academic department, they should ask for your permission to share this with student services to ensure you receive all of the support you are entitled to.

If you have a placement or are on a professional course such as medicine, there are guidelines that apply to sharing information in these circumstances.

You can read more here.

Thank you to UMHAN for their help with information on DSA’s.

Helpful Resources

The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. Charity no. 1153753.