How it started
For University Mental Health Day this year, I thought I would reflect on my experiences with Disability Support at Durham. I came into contact with disability support at the beginning of my third year in Durham, just after I changed to a different course, meaning I was in my first year academically. This was in October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. In February of that year, just before it all kicked off, I had dropped out of my degree and been to the doctor, where I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In the wake of my new degree, and after quite a lot of persuasion from my housemate and boyfriend, I reached out to the Uni with my diagnosis in order to set up a meeting to discuss it.
This was done by first completing a registration form and a note from my doctor, before having a meeting with a Disability Advisor. At the time, I found this terrifying. I was still only really coming to grips with all of the mammoth changes in the past six or so months, and now I had to talk to another person about it. I had really struggled with these aspects so far, and by far found the most difficult part of getting a diagnosis was having to explain to a doctor how I felt. Luckily, the doctor at the University Health Centre had been wonderful to talk to, and with the support of my friends behind me, I had my meeting.
My advisor was amazing!
My disability advisor was immediately lovely. She talked me through every aspect of what having a DSN (Disability Support Notice) would mean, who would know and what extra support I now had access to. Throughout the whole meeting, she was very welcoming, chatting about the cake she had for lunch and making me feel really comfortable. I had the opportunity to have follow-up meetings with her to discuss any other aspects of my DSN I was unsure about and felt very heard and respected. throughout.
From there, I’ve found my DSN has been largely up to me. Each module leader is informed of it at the start of the year, and although a few have reached out to me specifically, most of the time, it has been that if I have asked for extra support or have emailed about a particular thing, I can simply mention my DSN and the module leader will have the rest of the information that they need. I’ve found it has been incredibly helpful in making university much more manageable for me.
Before my diagnosis, I also had experience talking to student support in terms of getting a SAC form for my exams. I also had to speak to student support when I decided to change my degree, and in both instances, I found my college student support absolutely invaluable. If getting a DSN isn’t necessarily something you are looking to do or feels too intimidating then student support is an excellent option. They are just as welcoming and kind and didn’t mind me crying in their office, whilst also clearly setting out the next steps for me.
My general advice for anyone struggling with their mental health is to reach out to the support around you, whether that be formal or just talking to your friends. I know it’s repeated all the time, but sharing your problem with someone means you have two heads working on improving it and at the very least someone to talk to about it!
Following that, communicating your needs to staff throughout your degree is something really helpful you can do for yourself. It can be difficult, to access and understand your own needs and to reach out to try and tell them to someone else, but I personally have only been met with compassion and understanding from staff and other students when I have reached out, and it has always helped to alleviate my burden. There are lots of really helpful systems in place, as discussed in this blog, and they all want you to be able to achieve your best.
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