Students can access a variety of support to manage their mental health and wellbeing in higher education - ranging from help with a specific condition through to ways they can look after their general wellbeing. Some students may be hesitant to tell their university, so we've worked with experts (including Student Minds and the University Mental Health Advisers' Network (UMHAN)) to explain the process of declaration to your students, and offer practical ways to help them manage the transition to independence.
It's good to remember that other personal circumstances can create additional challenges and stress, so making sure students have the right support for their needs will offer them the best start to university.
Pre-application and research phase
- Where possible, identify students with mental health conditions (the SEN department or pastoral team in your school or college may be able to help). Make sure they know there is support available at university or college and that sharing this information means they will be able to have support put in place (even if they choose never to use it).
- Encourage students to talk to you about their needs. If they don’t feel comfortable doing so, make sure the pastoral or SEN team (whoever the student prefers to speak to) are equipped to talk about their requirements in HE.
- Signpost students to more information and advice. There’s lots of advice on ucas.com and on the Disability Rights UK website to get them started.
- Include support for mental health and wellbeing in all presentations as standard about higher education (for students and parents) – help them see this is for everyone by comparing mental health to physical health (e.g. mild mental health difficulties like low mood and stress can be viewed as similar to a cold).
- Signpost parents to the support links given in this toolkit, and to resources from Dr Dominique Thompson, a specialist in young people’s mental health and wellbeing, on the Buzz Consulting website.
- Our publication, Starting the conversation: UCAS report on student mental health offers a useful background for advisers on the challenges around student disclosure.
- Ensure you and your students know what a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is, how to apply, and what medical evidence is needed – ‘DSA find your way’ from Diversity and Ability is a great place to find out everything you need to know.
- If a student currently accesses health or social care, encourage them to explore the services to which they may be transitioned, as this can vary between different areas.
- Share the Student Minds ‘Know Before You Go’ guide to help you support all students making the transition to HE, particularly those with mental health conditions.
- Make sure students know there are mental health advisers at university or college who can offer support – watch and share this video from UMHAN to find out more about what mental health advisers do.
- Take UCAS’ online training module for advisers about supporting student with mental health conditions through the application process.
When they’re applying
- Before they make their final choices, encourage students to contact the support services team at their chosen universities or colleges to check what support is available. Read our guide to speaking to support services on ucas.com.
- Encourage students to share their mental health condition on their UCAS application – they do not need to have a diagnosis nor be eligible for DSA to get help from the university or college. Clarify that they do not have to use the support if they don’t want to – they are in control – but it is good to have it in place ready just in case their circumstance change. This blog article may be helpful.
- Students sometimes worry that sharing a mental health condition will affect their application, so reassure them this information is only used to arrange support, NOT to make an admissions decision. It may be helpful to explain what happens once they submit their application – the diagram and case studies on the mental health and wellbeing support page may be helpful.
- Students applying for courses with ‘fitness to practise’ requirements (e.g. medicine and dentistry) may worry that a mental health condition will be a barrier, so it is important to clarify they are protected by the Equality Act and that managing a condition, including asking for support, is viewed favourably; for example, guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) states that that ‘In almost every case, a mental health condition does not prevent a student from completing his or her course and continuing a career in medicine’ and note that, 'If a doctor recognises that they have a problem, has an understanding of their condition and asks for help, then in most cases we will not get involved’. There is more information on the UMHAN website.
- With the student’s permission, use the reference to explain any mitigating circumstances or challenges they’ve faced to help the university or college consider their achievements in context.
- The student must make the final decision to share information about their mental health. If you are concerned about their decision to withhold this information, make sure they know they can tell the university or college at any point (they may feel more comfortable once they’ve received an offer) and suggest they read this blog article from Student Minds/UMHAN and this guide from Disability Rights UK.
- Encourage students to apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) as early as possible alongside their student finance application – even if they are not sure they will be accepted. Again, having this in place in case their circumstances change is a reassuring safety net – and they do not have to use it.
- Direct students to the FAQ page if they are uncertain about sharing an impairment or condition.
- Check what evidence is required for the student’s DSA application (where applicable) and that they can access what they need.
- Check if the university or college holds summer schools or orientation events – some are specifically designed for those with autistic spectrum conditions or anxiety.
- Universities and colleges differ in the way they organise support and it is a good idea for the student to follow up with them directly even if they have shared a condition or impairment in the UCAS application. Bear in mind that many won’t get in touch until the student has accepted an offer.
During Confirmation and Clearing
Preparing for the transition to university or college
- Contact the student support team at the university or college to discuss support needs ahead of moving (where appropriate).
- Check they have spoken to their doctor or other health practitioner about ongoing care and support if they are moving away from the area (where applicable).
- Check they know who to contact at the university or college if they have any questions or problems when they arrive.
- To help students prepare for their next step, direct them to Student Minds’ Transitions resources and their Student Space website which offers resources and services to support students through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Leapskills resources from Unite Students are designed to help young people prepare for living away from home.
- Kooth offers free, safe, anonymous online mental health support for young people online (including NHS services) – students can check if their home or uni area is covered.
Further support and resources