Over half of disabled students struggle with their mental health while at university

‘I wish the university had been able to provide me with the support they advertised me’

Over half of all disabled students struggle with their mental health while at university.

Student Beans surveyed over 2,000 students and found that 52 per cent of disabled students experienced mental health struggles in comparison with 40 per cent of those who don’t identify as having a disability.

For many disabled students, Freshers’ Week can be a particularly tough period.

Bee, 25, has Fibromyalgia, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, Inflammatory Arthritis and Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.

Reflecting on their Freshers’ Week, Bee said: “I remember feeling really anxious – especially around meeting and interacting with new people.

“There is also added anxiety around disclosing my disabilities to new people, due to fear of how they will react, as most of my disabilities are invisible – there is always the fear that they will react badly.”

They added: “I wish the university had been able to provide me with the support they advertised me. I feel this would have benefitted me a lot because I wasn’t in any kind of therapy at the time and was really struggling, and definitely needed more support than I received.

“I feel like having more events tailored to disabled students would foster a bigger sense of community which I feel would have a positive impact on mental health.”

According to the survey, one in four disabled students feel lonely or isolated during Freshers’ Week.

Disabled students are also twice as likely to feel like nobody cares about them during their first few weeks at university.

Bee was frustrated by the support they received during their first year. “As part of my disability requirements, I had a mentor who helped me significantly,” Bee said. “She would help me with organisation, applying for extensions if I needed and lots of other things. She would help me with anything I needed if she could.

“I remember there were a few times when I broke down to her and she would put me into contact with the university’s mental health teams. I sought some help from them, but mostly I didn’t because I felt they didn’t quite understand my access needs.

“For example, they once told me about a therapy course they did for students who were experiencing both mental health difficulties and chronic pain. However, when it came to letting me onto it they said no because I am diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder. This made me feel excluded and like I wasn’t deserving of support so I eventually stopped seeking it.”

Bee thinks that universities need to change the way they support students with disabilities. They said: “I think often, universities don’t bear in mind students with both mental and physical health difficulties, including chronic pain.

“Chronic pain and physical disabilities have a massive impact on mental health, and vice versa, but often this isn’t taken into account when supporting students with mental health difficulties. I would have definitely liked to have seen more consideration into students with both mental and physical health disabilities.

“Being disabled definitely affected my life as a student because I experience a lot of chronic pain. This meant that often I felt unable to do my work, and had to apply for a lot of extensions – which ultimately made me feel like a failure despite my knowledge and belief that disabled students deserve to have their access needs met.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58. You matter.

Featured image via Shutterstock / Africa Studio (edited)

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