Studying and mental illness

Learning something new can be a positive and enjoyable experience. It can help you to build confidence, increase your skills and improve your mental health. But it can sometimes be challenging and stressful. This section looks at studying with a mental illness. It covers what help is available and things to think about when deciding what and where to study. This section is for people living with mental illness and their friends and family.

Overview

  • Studying can be helpful for people living with or recovering from mental illness.
  • Studying can help you gain new knowledge and skills for a certain job or career. As well as improve your self-esteem and wellbeing.
  • Studying can create extra challenges. These challenges can affect your mental health. But there is support you can get to help you.
  • If you have an existing mental health condition, you may be able to get extra help and financial support while you are studying.
  • Your college, university or other course provider may have a student support service as well as student-led support groups.

Choosing a course

What course should I choose?

Choosing which course you want to do will depend on what you want to achieve or how you prefer to learn.

You may want to study something completely new or something just for fun. Or you might want to increase your existing skills and experience. If you want to do a specific job or have a certain career, you should think about the qualifications and skills that you need.

You may find it helpful to find out what your preferred learning style is if you’re unsure about this. You can do a short quiz to find this out here:
www.help.open.ac.uk/learning-style-activity

Distance learning

Distance learning involves learning flexibly in your own time and with no fixed deadlines. You will have access to study materials at the start of the course. You may have access to a tutor by phone or email if you need support.

Online courses

Online courses are also known as e-learning.

This may be done with a combination of online videos, reading, tasks and resources. The videos may be recorded or broadcast online on a virtual learning environment (VLE). You might have a tutor, but you don’t get one with all online courses.

Leisure courses

Leisure courses are short or part-time courses which help you to pick up new skills.

These courses may not necessarily lead to a qualification.

You may want to learn a new subject related to your interests and hobbies. For example, photography, learning how to use a computer or a new language.

These types of courses can help you as part of your mental health recovery. It can be enjoyable to learn a new skill without any pressure to complete a qualification. They may also allow you to meet new people with similar interests.

These courses may take place in a range of settings: online, local community centres, schools and colleges.

You can search online for adult leisure courses here: www.wea.org.uk/

Vocational courses

Vocational courses focus on learning about a specific job area in a practical way. They can help you get the skills you need to start a job, move forward in a career or go on to higher education. Plumbing, hairdressing or catering are examples of vocational courses.

Vocational courses are usually offered by further education colleges or training providers. They combine working in real situations and part time study.

Educational courses

You may want to study an introductory course to an academic subject. GCSEs, A levels and BTEC qualifications are suitable for this. You can study them for interest or to do a higher education course like a degree.

Further and higher education courses lead to a higher-level qualification at college or university. If you already have a degree you may want to consider post-graduate study to improve your knowledge and skills.

Most colleges or universities or other course providers will have a copy of what courses they offer on their website. You can also request a hard copy called a prospectus.

You can search for further and higher education courses here:
www.ucas.com

I’m not sure what course I want to do. Who can help me decide?

If you aren’t sure exactly what you want to study, you may find it helpful to speak to a careers adviser. For help with choosing a career or a course to suit your needs, you can get help from the National Careers Service. You can find their details in the Useful contacts section at the bottom of this page.

If you are already studying at university or you’ve recently graduated, you could speak to your university careers adviser or graduate employment service.

How can I find out what level my qualification is?

In England, qualifications you study should each have a level of academic value. The level of your education can be important when applying for a new course or job.

You can find out more information about types of qualification levels here:
www.gov.uk/what-different-qualification-levels-mean/list-of-qualification-levels

You can find out more information about types of qualification levels here:
www.careerpilot.org.uk/qualifications

You can find a list of Useful contacts at the bottom of this page.

Support while studying

What support can I get for my mental health?

Most universities and colleges have student support services. Other learning providers may do too. These offer different kinds of support to make student life easier. This could include:

  • disability support services,
  • counselling, and
  • money advice.

Before starting a course

You can contact the course provider to find out what help and support is available for students with mental health issues. Before you start a course, you may be invited to see a disability adviser. They can tell you what support is available.

You could ask them the following questions.

  • What support does the learning provider give to students with mental health conditions?
  • Are there peer support services?
  • Would I get a personal tutor who could offer me support?

After starting a course

Once you start your course you may get allocated a tutor. They may be called a ‘personal tutor’ or a ‘pastoral support tutor’. Your tutor can offer you advice and support. You can visit them to talk about problems you are having with stress or course work. They may be able to arrange extra help for you during your studies.

What type of help could I ask for?

You could ask for extra help during your studies. This might include:

  • having a note taker during lessons,
  • having study support to do research for assignments,
  • doing exams in a separate room to other people,
  • having a seat near a door or a window,
  • getting extra time for exams and assignments,
  • getting a computer so you can work from home if you are too ill to come into class,
  • counselling from the university or an external service, or
  • benefits and money advice.

Peer support

Some course providers have support services run by students. These are known as peer support services. They may offer emotional support, or they may run an advice centre or legal service.

Many students’ unions will have a student disability or equality officer. They may be able to offer support if you have any problems during your course. Some universities may have an emotional support line run by other students.

Student Minds is UK based student mental health charity. They can offer support to both students and staff struggling with their mental health. You can find their contact details in the Useful contacts section below.

Peer Mentoring

Some course providers may have peer mentoring schemes. This means that you and another student will pair up to support each other. They should be someone who understands mental illness or your condition. You can ask for their support when you need it or meet regularly for a chat.

Sharing my diagnosis

How much information should I share about my mental health?

When you start a course, you may feel anxious about sharing information about your mental health. How much information you share is up to you. You could think about the following points to help you decide on what information to share.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is the law that protects people being treated unfairly by employers or service providers because of their disability. This includes disabled people in education. You may have a disability in line with the Act if you have a mental illness.

Colleges, universities and other course providers may ask you if you have a disability. If you tell them that you do, you could ask for ‘reasonable adjustments’. These are changes that the course provider can make to try and reduce the disadvantage you have because of your disability.

If you choose not to share that you have a mental illness, then the course provider has no obligation to make reasonable adjustments for you.

You can find more information about ‘Discrimination and Mental Health’ by clicking here.

Fitness to practise

There are some professional courses where having a mental illness may affect your application. You will need to be assessed for ‘fitness to practise’ before starting the course. The ‘fitness to practise’ rules exist to make sure someone can deal with the demands of the career.

For example, you will be asked to share information about your mental health if you want to study for a job involving children or vulnerable adults, such as a:

  • doctor,
  • nurse,
  • member of the armed forces,
  • teacher, or
  • social worker.

If you want to do these jobs, you should look at their ‘fitness to practise’ regulations to make sure this is the right choice for you.

Financial support

What financial support can I get while studying?

Grants and bursaries for adult learners

As an adult learner, you can apply for grants and bursaries to help pay for courses and training. Usually, you don’t have to pay this money back. For most grants and bursaries, you apply directly to the organisation that gives them out. They’ll have an application form and will be able to tell you if you qualify.

You can search for organisations that offer educational grants and bursaries by using the grant search on the Turn2Us website here:
www.turn2us.org.uk/

Hardship funds

Some course providers offer extra money if you’re struggling financially. You can contact your course provider to find out if you’re eligible for their help.

Funding for higher education

You might be studying for a degree or other higher-level qualification. You may be eligible to apply for a loan or grant to pay for your tuition fees and living costs. You could be eligible for:

  • student loans, including tuition fee loans and maintenance loans, or
  • career development loans

You can find out more here: www.gov.uk/education/student-grants-bursaries-scholarships

Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs)

If you have a mental health condition that is defined as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, you may qualify for additional funding. DSAs are to help you with additional costs you have because of your mental health. This could be funding for a computer, travel costs or other expenses.

You can find out more information on eligibility for DSAs and how to apply at:
www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas/how-to-claim

Welfare benefits

Disabled students may be able to claim some welfare benefits.

You can find more information about welfare benefits such as:

  • Personal Independence Payments (PIP),
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or
  • Universal Credit.

at www.mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org

You can contact a local welfare benefits advice organisation to get advice on benefits you might be able to claim. You can search for benefits advisers by using the following websites.

Help with health costs

You may be able to get help with prescription costs, dental and optical charges. This will depend on things such as your age, medical condition or what benefits you claim. You can contact the NHS Low Income Scheme for information on:

NHS Low Income Scheme helpline
Telephone: 0300 330 1343
Online contact form: www.nhsbsa-live.powerappsportals.com/contact-us/
Website: www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/nhs-low-income-scheme

Council tax exemption

As a full-time student you may not have to pay Council tax if you only live with other full-time students.

You can find out more information here: www.gov.uk/council-tax/discounts-for-full-time-students

Difficulties

What if I experience difficulties whilst learning?

You may already know how your mental illness affects your ability to study. However, if you do not, here are some things to look out for.

You may find it difficult to:

  • concentrate,
  • work in groups,
  • work with other people such as students or teachers,
  • go to everything you need to or get there on time,
  • be around large groups of people such as lectures, libraries and exams,
  • do all the work you need to for your course,
  • meet assignment deadlines, or
  • live in shared student accommodation.

If you are struggling with these things, and feel you need more support then speak to someone as soon as possible. You can speak to someone you feel most comfortable talking to.

You could talk to:

  • a close relative or friend,
  • your GP,
  • your psychiatrist (if you already have one),
  • the student support service,
  • your personal tutor, or
  • a religious or spiritual leader.

Your friend or relative could help you to make an appointment to see your GP or psychiatrist.

If you have moved to the place where you study, you might not have had time to register with a GP. If you need help you can get an appointment as a temporary patient. The student support service may be able to help you find your nearest GP.

You can also find local GP surgeries on the following NHS website:
www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-GP

You can find more information about ‘What to expect from your GP’ by clicking here.

Who can help me if I have experienced discrimination?

If you think that you have been discriminated against, you may be able to get independent advice and support from your Student’s Union.

The Equality Advisory Support Service will also be able to advise you. Their details are in the Useful contacts section at the boom of this page.

You can find more information about ‘Discrimination and Mental Health’ by clicking here.

Further reading

Dealing with exam stress
By Young Minds

Young Minds are the UK’s leading charity for children and young people's mental health. They’ve produced this information on how to deal with exam stress.

Website link: www.youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/exam-stress/

Useful contacts

Disability Rights UK
This organisation offers information and advice about all areas of the Equality Act and how you are protected. They have a student advice helpline.

Telephone: 0330 995 0414 (Open 11am – 1pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays)
Email: students@disabilityrightsuk.org
Web: www.disabilityrightsuk.org/how-we-can-help/helplines/disabled-students-helpline

Citizens Advice
They offer free, confidential advice on different areas including your discrimination, laws and rights and welfare benefits.

Telephone: 0800 144 8848
Webchat: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/web-chat-service/
Website: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

Disability Law Service
They advise on several areas related to disability, including disability discrimination.

Telephone: 020 7791 9800 (Open Monday to Friday from 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm)
Address: Disability Law Service, The Foundry, 17 Oval Way, London, SE11 5RR
Email: advice@dls.org.uk
Website: www.dls.org.uk

Equality Advisory Support Service
EASS gives advice on discrimination and human rights to people in England, Scotland and Wales.

Tel: 0808 800 0082 (Open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm and Saturday 10am to 2pm)
Address: FREEPOST EASS HELPLINE FPN6521
Email: Via website here www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/app/ask
Webchat: via website here
Website: www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/

Gov.UK
The Government website has different financial information that may be helpful for students. There is information on general student finance as well.

Website: www.gov.uk/student-finance

Open University
General enquiries about distance learning courses and student finance at the Open University.

Telephone: 0300 303 5303 (Open Monday to Friday, from 8am- 5.30pm)
Email: www.open.ac.uk/contact/new
Website: www.open.ac.uk/

National Careers Service
Provides information, advice and guidance to adults based in the UK. They can help you make decisions on learning, training and work.

Telephone: 0800 100 900 (8am to 10pm, 7 days a week)
Webchat: On their website here
Email: On their website here
Website: www.nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/

Prospects
Provides online careers information, advice and guidance to students and graduates based in the UK.

Website: www.prospects.ac.uk

Student Minds
This is a UK based student mental health charity. They can offer support to both students and staff struggling with their mental health.

Telephone: 0113 343 8440 (general enquiries only, not a crisis line)
Email: info@studentminds.org.uk
Website: www.studentminds.org.uk

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