EXCLUSIVE: Number of students asking for special exam conditions for mental health nearly doubles

Number of applications relating to mental health and depression rise, while figures for anxiety remain steady

exam mental health peer support

Data obtained by The Tab under Freedom of Information law shows that students suffering from mental health issues are increasingly asking for and being granted exam conditions that take into account their circumstances.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students applying for extenuating circumstances has increased by 16.7%. Whilst applications are increasing, the number being rejected has almost halved from 9% of applications to 4.6%.

Of the applications being made, the number of students who cited ‘Mental health issues / depression’ as their reason for extenuating circumstances has almost doubled. Though, oddly, the number of students claiming anxiety for special circumstances remained nearly exactly the same, with only 4 more students citing it in 2014/15 compared to 2013/14.

Silver linings

Silver linings…?

These trends may be due to the increased awareness of mental health issues as a whole. Speaking to The Tab, CUSU’s Welfare Officer Poppy Logan identified a destigmatisation of mental health issues across UK universities and suggested that those applying to Cambridge are following suit. A “wider diversity of students” is expecting “parity between mental health support and physical health support”.

Plans in JCRs to host more drop in sessions and offer support chat lines show a greater concern for mental health.

She suggested that nowadays, with greater support, awareness, and destigmatisation of mental health issues, students are more comfortable citing these issues in claiming extenuating circumstances for their exams.

It doesn't have to be so bleak.

It doesn’t have to be so bleak.

But Poppy calls this culture “incomplete”. This is due to differing levels of support offered by the colleges. Colleges engage with with the DRC (Disability Resource Centre) to different extents. For example, the JCR Welfare officer for St John’s regrets that the college doesn’t have “connections with the University as a whole” in regards to mental health.

Instead, it seems that it is students supporting each other who are to thank. “Students are supporting each other through networks designed for this purpose more and more.” Students with mental health issues are more likely to become aware that they qualify for extenuating circumstances by talking to each other.

Poppy suggested that in some cases, students with experience are actually more informed than individual tutors, supervisors, or Directors of Studies. Such figures will have “varying levels of familiarity with what support is available”.

For example, in John’s, the email last year sent out asking if students required extra time did little to advise on who exactly would be eligible.

Overall, though, the trend over the past three years has been positive. It remains to be seen if the relation between mental health and exam conditions will continue to improve.