Sunday 16 September 2018

Disabled Student's Allowance for Mental Health

In this blog Carys shares her experience of applying for DSA for mental health reasons, to reassure those in a similar situation. 

"I am so glad I sought support through Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA). I didn't even realise that my mental illness is classed as a disability and I could get extra help with my degree. It's really worth applying – you have nothing to lose!"

It's important to note that mental illness affects people in different ways. In this blog I will share my experiences of the process and support I received but that doesn't mean it's going to be the same for you. Here's the story of my experiences with applying for DSA with Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

You can apply for DSA via Student Finance England when you also apply for your loans. You have to send some medical evidence. You will then be contacted to let you know if you are eligible for DSA. My medical evidence was outdated the first time, so Student Finance sent me a form in the post for my GP to fill in (for free). After I got my letter of eligibility, I was told to book a Needs Assessment at a centre near me. I go to Durham University but my nearest centre to my home address is Leeds Beckett University, so I headed there for my assessment. The assessment doesn't need to take place at your university. There is often a bit of a waiting list (surprise!).

The assessment itself is apparently the most difficult part of it all. I was terrified; I thought it was going to be like an exam, like I would have to prove to someone that I find it difficult to concentrate. I thought that there would be a chance of coming out the end of all this without being allowed any additional support because I wasn't ill enough or deserving of it. But this is certainly not the case: it is basically just a chat. It lasted 2 hours but I could have a break whenever I wanted to and the lady who did my assessment was so lovely. Also, if you've got to the point where you're attending a Needs Assessment it is because there is equipment that might be able to help you. The job of the assessor is to find what support you need and tailor it to your circumstances. So, you will not be leaving that assessment without any support for your studies. It’s just a case of where the support is needed. 

The first hour was dedicated to looking at how my mental illness impacts on my degree. We discussed how I am assessed (dissertation, exams, presentations, essays) and how that is difficult for me, how I am taught at university and how I take notes/research/read etc, and time management. I explained what support I already receive from my university's disability service. They also asked about travel to university and any accessibility issues I may have.

The second hour was dedicated to discussing any equipment that the needs assessor has identified that could be beneficial. A lot of my equipment, for example, is computer software, so my assessor took a look at my laptop (I was told to take my computer with me) and then showed me an example of the software in use on their computer. Everything is covered, and they write down anything extra that might be needed. For example, my laptop battery is terrible, so I am also getting a portable battery pack. Here is a list of just some of the support I will be getting this year:

A reading software to help me with.... you guessed it... my reading. The main feature I'm looking forward to with this is being able to have information read aloud to me, so I can follow the text and focus on it more. 
A mind-mapping software to help organise and link my ideas and research
A note-taking software to allow any PowerPoint slides, my written notes and the lecture recordings to be stored in the same place. 
A mentor to help me with things like stress and time management

It then takes the assessor a couple of weeks to write up the report of my needs and why this stuff has been recommended for me, as well as finding three price quotes from different external companies. The report then gets sent to me, my university's disability centre and Student Finance England. This is the point I am at now. 

It takes SFE a couple of weeks to then choose the quote they want to go with, and after they've done that they will contact you with their decision. I think it is then up to us to contact the chosen company to arrange a time for them to come and install everything onto my laptop/phone. As for things that are provided by DSA themselves, such as my mentor, I am hoping there will be more information in a future email about how to get that support set up. If you have any questions about DSA the best place to ask is your university's disability service. 

I’m Carys, a 4th year Modern Languages student at Durham University. I do lots of campaign work for mental health awareness with young people, and I am one of the blog editors for Student Minds this year! Check out my blog here and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions! 

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