Mental Podcast Show

Rachel shares how she prepared for university and how she continues to advocate for the best support for her needs whilst studying. 
– Rachel Lawrence

As a mentally ill student, I knew from the get-go that going to university would be no easy task. I would be leaving behind my family and friends and my newly put-in-place mental health support system. I specifically worried that I wouldn’t have friends that would support me and that I would become overwhelmed by work and my mental illness!
It was therefore essential that I started advocating for myself and preparing how I could navigate through these challenges when I started my university journey by preparing to put support in place before I went, as soon as I got there.
Here are some of the things I found to be most useful for working towards this transition, myself. 
1. Being active and prepared ahead of time.
The first thing I did once I had my place confirmed was to find out who the mental health advisor for my college/university was. I then sent an email explaining that I was a prospective offer holder and was enquiring about the mental health support available.  My university was brilliant because they have been truly accommodating with extensions and extra support. Especially brilliant was my mental health advisor who I liaised with, talking about my diagnosis and what support could be put into place when I came. They offered meetings with the departments so academic staff were aware of my needs, staggered deadlines and exam concessions. As well as this, acting as a personal advisor, helping with personal aspects of uni life and being a safe person to vent worries to. Putting these connections in place before I arrived was invaluable to my stress levels as it was one thing I didn’t have to worry about on top of settling in.   
2. Having evidence ready to support your claims for additional help.
To advocate for your needs efficiently and effectively it is important to have “evidence” to show what you’re struggling with and why.  For me, this involved sourcing a letter of an official diagnosis from a psychiatrist, detailing my mental illness and the ways it would affect my life at uni. Useful documents do not have to be of a formal diagnosis but might involve an alternative acknowledgement of an ongoing mental health problem. These are often essential to obtaining adequate support as most universities will require confirmation by a professional. They can also be used to help you apply for funds such as the DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance): having a mental illness counts as a disability, too, so pots of money like this can be used to aid students who face additional barriers to their study through their mental health needs. I didn’t apply myself but know that providing as much evidence as you can is essential! 
3. Honest and open communication. 
The basis for self-advocating is reflecting on how you’re feeling: asking yourself what can help you feel even better, and communicating what you need to those around you. From a University context, staff are very understanding and willing to help you as much as they can. Universities hold huge investments in you, your well-being, and your success! Disability support and academic welfare are essential departments which provide support and can help you advocate for your needs. By communicating, staff can help support you across every aspect of Student Life: academic, social, emotional, financial… The more you email and talk, the easier it becomes to get what you need to survive and thrive!
Finally, you should always prioritise your mental well-being when deciding whether university is for you. I knew that watching my friends go to university while I stayed at home would be worse for my mental health than taking the risk and going. Ultimately it is a personal and tough decision which should be well considered but know whatever decision you make, the right one is the one that will uplift your mental well-being the most! 
Explore tips and resources to help you navigate university life in Student Minds’ Transitions Guide.
My name is Rachel (she/her) and I am a second-year philosophy and politics student at Durham University. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder only a few months before coming to university. I, therefore, knew it was essential to prepare for the big jump! And, since then, I have learnt how to self-advocate for my needs and wanted to share my tips!

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