Mental wellbeing - Understanding disabilities, impairments and specific learning difficulties - University of Derby

Mental wellbeing

There are a range of mental health conditions that students may experience and which may impact significantly on the student’s ability to learn effectively. As in the general population, depression and anxiety related conditions are the most commonly diagnosed. However, students also experience the full range of other mental health conditions such as

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Acute Stress Reaction / Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Psychosis
  • Bi-Polar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders

Students may be more susceptible to experiencing a negative impact on their mental health due to the number of changes they are likely to be coping with. These include managing limited finances; leaving home and known friendship and support networks; coping with communal living and making new friends; and managing the demands of study. In addition, some mental health conditions are more likely to emerge around the teenage to young adult years.

Some students disclose their mental health diagnosis prior to University and access support from the onset of University life; some students may not have a pre-existing condition but their mental health may deteriorate once at University; others choose not to disclose this information at all.

Mental health conditions are largely a hidden disability and it may be difficult to identify that a student has a mental health concern. Students’ mental health condition may present in several different ways:

  • Depression can result in reduced motivation and self-confidence, an inability to concentrate, and medication can impair cognitive functioning. 
  • Students with anxiety related conditions often experience sleep disturbance, poor concentration and a range of physical effects. Some may experience panic attacks which can be very distressing.
  • A student with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may have recurring thoughts or images that are invasive and they may feel compelled to perform repetitive activities to prevent the obsession from becoming reality.
  • Eating Disorders can result in lack of concentration; becoming depressed; feeling weak and lethargic. Not all students will present with weight loss as some disorders such as bulimia may maintain weight whilst binge eating may result in weight gain. 
  • Acute stress reaction develops when a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event and this causes mental distress. Where symptoms which persist for longer than a few months it can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD can cause sleep disturbance, unwanted intrusive thoughts and images, difficulty in regulating emotions and an increase in risk taking behaviour as well as avoidance of situations which might cause distress. This may impact on a student’s ability to attend university, maintain focus on their programme of study, structure their time and concentrate on academic work. 
  • Social Phobia, which is an extreme fear of being embarrassed in public situations, and Agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in situations where exit is difficult, can have a direct impact on the Student’s ability to participate in University life.
  • Psychosis is a serious and potentially enduring condition causing a distortion of reality involving hallucinations, delusions or thought disorders. During a ‘psychotic’ episode thoughts are disturbed making cognition difficult.
  • Bi-Polar Disorder was formerly known as Manic Depression although this term is no longer used. Students experience extreme mood swings from elation to depression. Psychotic symptoms may also be present.
  • Personality Disorders as mental health conditions are becoming more recognised and the impact of a personality disorder on the daily life of someone experiencing this condition is becoming more understood. Difficulties can be experienced with thinking patterns; emotional regulation; and maintaining relationships. Further information is available.

Preparation for University

Student Wellbeing will contact all applicants who declare a mental health condition on their UCAS form. This contact starts in the Autumn semester prior to the year of study. We are able to offer individual appointments during Open Days and Applicant Days as well as over the summer. Early contact enables us to discuss the student’s support needs and ensure that appropriate support is in place for the start of the course.
If a student has a support plan in place, this will identify any adjustments required to meet their individual needs. The following provides examples of the types of adjustments that may be put in place:

  • Seating near an exit
  • A smaller group room to complete exams
  • Alternative assessment methods where appropriate
  • Additional time to complete assignments. 

For students who experience exam or presentation anxiety, the Psychological Wellbeing team offer specific, time limited therapeutic input to address this.
It is good practice to discuss with the Student how the recommendations in the Support Plan can be implemented.

Student Wellbeing Service
The Service works with students to provide and facilitate:

  • Assessment of support needs and support plan
  • Therapy
  • Crisis support
  • Individual interventions focused on exam anxiety
  • Individual interventions focused on presentation anxiety
  • Individual interventions for students who have experienced a trauma
  • Specialist Mentors who work individually with students to enable effective monitoring and management of mental health as well as a focus on academic progress. A 3 way meeting with the student and Specialist Mentor can be a helpful way to understand the student’s specific needs.
  • Advice regarding financial support

In addition to the above, the library is equipped with a range of self-help resources found in the Bibliotherapy section.

Where can I find out more?

What's Happening ...

Learning and Teaching Conference 2018 - Call for proposals

The Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) is pleased to announce the call for proposals for the Learning & Teaching Conference 2018. All staff are invited to submit using the online form below for consideration by the conference review panel. Proposals need to be submitted no later than 12 noon on 22 May 2018.