Sharing a mental health condition: What you need to know

Wednesday 26 July 2023, Support

by Student Minds

Sharing a mental health condition: What you need to know

Sharing that you have a mental health condition can feel daunting – Student Minds has some expert advice on everything you need to know if you’re still uncertain.
Student Minds

Disclosing that you have a mental health condition can feel daunting. It’s understandable to wonder who will find out about your condition or whether it will impact how you are treated on your course. Letting UCAS know can help you access the support you need. When you share your mental health condition through UCAS, you have certain rights to privacy and reasonable adjustments which can set you up for success in your studies. 

Getting support early can help you maintain good mental wellbeing and means you get the help you’re entitled to as soon as possible. Sharing your condition is a personal choice, but knowing your rights before you share and the benefits of doing so can help you make an informed decision.

How do I share my mental health condition through UCAS?

The purpose of sharing is to ensure students with mental health difficulties can access the support they are entitled to at university or college. For a mental health condition, challenge or disorder to come under the protection of the Equality Act:

  • there must be a substantial, adverse impairment to daily activities
  • the difficulty should be long-term (has lasted, or may last, 12 months)
  • the cumulative effects of a mental health difficulty may in combination be ‘substantial’
  • difficulties that are episodic are covered if they are likely to reoccur
  • a person who has recovered from a mental health difficulty is covered if the difficulty is likely to reoccur
  • a person does not need to show that the adverse effects impact on any particular capacity (e.g. memory or concentration)

If you feel you meet these criteria, you may be eligible for additional support, and it is worth considering sharing. If you are not sure whether you meet the above criteria, sharing will help you find out more.

When submitting your UCAS application, you have the opportunity to share a mental health condition, challenge or disorder. In the section marked ‘Disability/Special Needs’, you can select the option ‘mental health condition’.

You can then enter any particular needs related to your mental health difficulty. This information is passed on to the course providers you have applied to as part of your application, so they can begin to think about what support to provide for you.

What are the benefits of sharing my mental health condition?

If you share, your course provider is legally required to make reasonable adjustments which take account of your needs.

On starting your course, you will have the opportunity to talk to your course provider’s student support services. You may be eligible for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) – this can provide a wide range of support, from specialist equipment to a mentor, depending on what is agreed to suit your needs. If you do not receive DSA, your course provider may provide alternative support.

Here, a student talks about the support she received after she shared:

I went to see the Mental Health Adviser at my university, who gave me support and a feeling of reassurance that I wouldn't be facing my depressive episode alone. She advised me to apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance, something I wouldn't have thought to do otherwise. DSA funded me to have a mental health mentor who I see weekly. He knows me so well that he can spot any signs I'm struggling before even I can. Both have also advocated for me in my journey through the NHS mental health system. The holistic nature of the support given by mental health advisers and mentors has literally been a lifeline for me and I'm incredibly grateful.

What kinds of support and 'reasonable adjustments' can I get?

These will depend on your individual circumstances, but if you're entitled to reasonable adjustments, you could receive a range of support, such as (but not limited to):

  • alternative assessments
  • extra support and help with planning before or during exam and assessment periods
  • a separate/smaller exam room
  • assistance with applying for Disabled Students' Allowance
  • specialist mental health mentoring 
  • study skills support

Every student will have different needs and so one key benefit of disclosing is it enables you to get personalised, appropriate support in a timely fashion. You can find out more about what you may be entitled to on the UMHAN website.

I have a mental health condition and I’m going to start university – what are my rights?

You have a right to equal treatment. Many people worry that if they share a mental health condition, challenge or disorder, it will affect whether they are accepted. However, Equality Act legislation makes it illegal for staff to discriminate against you. The decision of whether you are offered a place on a course must be purely down to academic suitability. Some courses such as nursing, teaching, or social work additionally require a fitness-to-practice assessment.

You have a right for your information to be protected. Another worry is that if you share, your mental health condition, challenge or disorder will become common knowledge, or that people who you don’t want to know about it will be informed. However, your information will only be shared with people who need to know at the time you are sharing. Staff will adhere to the Data Protection Act, ensuring your information is processed appropriately and sensitively.

You have a right to support. If you have a mental health condition, challenge or disorder, providing support is your course provider’s responsibility. Seeking support isn’t asking for special treatment – it’s asking your course provider to ensure you have access to the same opportunities as other students. Sharing is, for many, an empowering experience.

What if I don’t share?

Choosing whether to share is a personal decision. If you change your mind, it’s never too late to share – go to your university support services and they will help you access the support you're entitled to.

A common reason for not sharing is that you don’t feel you would currently benefit from support. This may be true, but note that sharing has a preventative element. It makes the process of seeking support smoother, should you need it later on. Accessing support early, before busy periods in the academic calendar, can help set you up for success and make sure you’re prepared for assessments, learning, and all aspects of university life.

Where can I learn more?

If you would like to learn more about what sharing a mental health condition entails, or dealing with a mental health condition while at university, there’s plenty of information available. 

  • You can contact UCAS for more specific information and guidance on the sharing process.
  • Student Space has plenty of information on managing your mental health and wellbeing at university, as well as a directory of support services specific to your university or college.

This article was prepared by UMHAN and Student Minds, charities specialising in mental health at university, with support from UCAS.