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Mental Health Matters: 5 things students should consider when thinking about universities

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By Forrest Dunbar, student at University of Bedfordshire

Forrest Dunbar has Asperger’s syndromebut didn’t look back once while he was a student at the University of Bedfordshire.

Here he takes a look at what students with mental health conditions should bear in mind when considering and choosing universities – from what support might be available, to specialist equipment and mentoring opportunities.

1. Visiting the university

There’s nothing better than visiting a university in person. You just get such a good sense of the feel of the place, which can be difficult to grasp from websites, videos and paper prospectuses.

Meeting lecturers from the course can be inspiring and gives you a chance to ask questions about the course and what to expect – it can really help to put your mind at ease. 

It’s also a good chance to have a chat with the student support team to find out how they approach supporting students with mental health conditions – a quick face-to-face conversation can tell you a lot more than what you might read online, plus you get a ready and hopefully comprehensive answer to any particular questions that you might have.

2. Research the support that is available

Before you confirm your place at university you absolutely should be fully aware what support will be available.

Some individuals might not feel comfortable putting themselves forward to ask what they are entitled to, but everybody I spoke with was so friendly that I would encourage everybody to overcome this and just ask.

Many universities run specific initiatives to support students with mental health conditions – for example, at the University of Bedfordshire, there was a special programme of events during freshers’ week for those like me with autism spectrum disorders, which was really helpful when settling in. Knowing what specific help is already in place shows a lot about how the university approaches mental health generally – it is always a good sign if your university can talk confidently about what support programmes they run and how you might benefit.

3. See if you can get a mentor

When I started at university I found it really helpful to be paired up with a couple of mentors, both to cover academic study and life at university itself.

Starting at university can be quite overwhelming, as there is a lot of information to take in and plenty of new people to meet. Having a dedicated person to go to with questions or concerns, who is really knowledgeable about the university, can be really beneficial.

This support can be formal or informal,whichever might work best for you. In my case the student support team arranged for me to meet with my mentor once a week for an hour, though she was also always on hand in the week if I wanted to talk about anything urgent. All I had to do was send a text, and she was there at my door!

4. Ask about specialist equipment

Mental health is a broad field and it’s very important for universities not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to the support and equipment that is provided to students. Students will have varying needs and so a bespoke offering works well.

It might be that specialist software is available for your laptop to assist with reading for essays and exam preparation. Small adjustments to your accommodation might be provided, to make things easier for you at home.

Be proactive about talking to your university’s student support team about what might benefit you – in my experience staff were more than happy to help with any requests; if you don’t ask you may not get!

5. Check about extra support to help with exams

For many students, success in exams is a very important, not to mention stressful, factor of life at university.

Mental health conditions shouldn’t unduly affect your grades and there is no shame about asking for extra support for exams and coursework. Universities are used to handling requests and will be able to discuss your needs in close detail in the hope of finding solutions to help you.

For me, it was about having a little bit of extra time in exams to read carefully around the questions, so that I could understand these fully. Others will have different needs, of course, but the main thing to remember is that the university wants all of its students to do well. They will be only too pleased to discuss any solution that has the potential to help you succeed. 

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