Supporting Students With Mental Health Difficulties

By Mary O Grady
Jul 2, 2010 - 5:45:19 PM


UCC Supporting Students with Mental Health Problems

The Disability Support Service at UCC supports over 300 students with disabilities pursuing degree programmes at UCC at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Students registered with the service include those with vision impairment, deaf or hard of hearing, wheel chair users and those with mobility difficulties, students with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, students with mental health difficulties and students with significant ongoing illness.

The aims of the Disability Support Service are:

Empower students with disabilities achieve their academic goals and make a successful transition to employment.
Integrate students with disabilities into all areas of college life
Raise awareness of disability issues around campus
Foster independence so that all students with disabilities develop their full potential and educational ability in an inclusive environment.

The focus of the service is on the individual and not on the disability. Thus individual customised programmes of support are developed for each student with a disability.

The Disability Support Service at UCC is one of the most comprehensive and extensive Support Services in the country; facilitating students with disabilities at pre entry level, for the duration of their studies and at postgraduate level also.

Numbers of Students with Mental Health Problems in UCC

Numbers of students with mental health problems in UCC have increased significantly over the past 3 years. Presently there are approximately 50 students with mental health problems registered with the Disability Support Service in UCC. Due to increased awareness and understanding of supports available, many students are now more open to disclosing the fact that their mental health difficulty impacts on their ability in the learning environment.

Range of Mental Health Difficulties experienced by students

The range of mental health difficulties experienced by students includes:
Depressive Illness, including Bipolar Disorder.
Panic Attacks
Acute Stress/Anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress
Schizophrenia, a biological brain disorder, which can cause hallucinations and delusions, paranoia and lack of motivation.
Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are also relatively common.

Any of these difficulties may affect concentration, attention, interest level and/or the ability to meet deadlines. These difficulties may be transitory (e.g. induced by recent personal trauma) or of longer standing.

Supports Available to Assist Students with Mental Health Difficulties at UCC

Liaison with Academic Departmental Representatives
The Disability Support Service liaises with nominated Departmental Academic Representatives to support students with mental health problems pursuing programmes in their departments

The Disability Support Officer will liaise with counselling services in college to assist the student

Tutorial Support Programme
This is where additional subject specific tuition is organised for the student. The aim of this programme is to address the educational difficulties experienced by some students with mental health difficulties pursuing third level courses. Postgraduate tutors are contracted to work with students on a one-to-one basis in subject specific areas, under a strict code of practice. A tutor Co-ordinator liaises with between academic departments and students with disabilities to organise individual subject specific tuition.

Peer Support / Mentoring Programme
This is where a student is linked with a post-graduate with a similar disability to generate support and encouragement. The Peer Mentoring Programme offers support to students with mental health problems who may be experiencing difficulties integrating and coping with university life. This programme helps to promote positive mental health awareness on campus.

Photocopying cards are available on a limited basis

Use of Assistive Technologies
Students with mental health difficulties can avail of laptops (where necessary) if lack of access to computers in the open computer labs causes stress and anxiety.

The Disability Support Service operates an Assistive Technology Resource Centre where technology is available to students. The role of the Assistive Technology Trainer includes:
· Provision of training in A.T. and I.T. as well as ongoing technical support.
· ECDL training and testing

Alternative Examination Arrangements
The Disability Support Office liaises with the Examinations Office regarding arrangements specific to each student's needs. For students with mental health difficulties, these arrangements include:
· Making separate rooms available to students
· Arranging small, shared rooms for students

Examination arrangements for in-term exams are also facilitated by the Service, in co-operation with the academic departments and the individual student.

Guidance on Employment and Career Opportunities
A designated careers advisor delivers an individually customised career guidance programme to students registered with the Disability Support Service. This programme includes:
Provision of individual consultations on exploration of further study opportunities, advice on job seeking strategies, CV and application form review, interview practice and disclosure of disability.
Delivery of relevant career workshops and seminars to groups of students.
Liaison with employers positive to disability on recruitment of graduates with disabilities.

Mary O Grady is Disability Support Officer at UCC

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