It still sometimes shocks people to learn that in certain cases, mental health conditions can be classed as disabilities – even though you can’t always see the debilitating effects mental health conditions can have on you. Today’s post will talk about mental illnesses as an unseen disability, how this all fits in with the law, and also the kind of support at Cambridge for those with mental health conditions that goes beyond counselling.
Because mental health conditions are happening in your head, and because there aren’t always physical symptoms, we can’t always see their effects on the people around us in day to day life. If you or your friends are struggling with mental health issues, the “invisible” nature can sometimes make it feel really difficult to justify your problems to friends, tutors, or DoSes. Often, they only see you when you’re at your best – but they don’t get to see you struggling to get out of bed, or when you’re too anxious to leave your room or go to hall. This can mean that it can be really difficult to validate your own health issues, and see them as problems at all – let alone problems that can, in some cases, count as a disability.
It’s important to try and see past the invalidation of invisible illnesses and to recognise when your mental health issues are genuinely substantially affecting your ability to do normal, everyday things, like eat or go for a walk. This is one of the factors that defines disability under UK law, along with the issues being long-term – i.e. lasting for or likely to last for a year or more, or likely to recur.
While you might not ever want to self-define as disabled, it’s really important to know that mental health issues are serious enough to classify as disabilities. This is because there is a lot of support that is available to people that usually is only through disability services – in the case of Cambridge, there’s a huge amount of support available through the Disability Resource Centre (DRC), which so many students with mental health issues don’t access because they think it isn’t for them! Many students at Cambridge struggle on, thinking that the only support available to them is counselling, but this just isn’t the case. The DRC can provide a whole host of support in accessing your studies, and a large number of students access them purely for mental health reasons – indeed, people with mental health issues are the second largest group of people accessing support at the DRC by disability category.
Depending on your personal needs on assessment, you could be eligible for support such as:
- extended library loans
- sitting exams in smaller rooms
- rest breaks or extra time in exams
- permission to hand in fewer items of work, or drafts instead of completed work
- weekly mentoring sessions