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University Mental Health Day: Why we encourage students to disclose their mental health conditions and why you should too

  • 14 March 2024
  • By Rachel Spacey and Sam Gamblin
  • On University Mental Health Day, we are delighted to publish this blog from Dr. Rachel Spacey, Policy and Engagement Officer, and Sam Gamblin, Charity Manager, at the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN LinkedIn). To learn more, see the hashtags #UniMentalHealthDay and #IChoseToDisclose.

On Thursday March 14th, 2024, it’s University Mental Health Day (UMHD), the annual student mental health awareness day. It’s hard to believe that this will be its sixteenth year, having started back in 2008 to raise the visibility of student mental health on campus and help break down stigma. Back then there were a few events held at a few universities put on by our members (the University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN)) who are mental health practitioners in education. Since then, the event has flourished. We have always worked closely with the charity Student Minds, and since 2012 we have run UMHD together. Their influence has helped galvanise the participation of Students’ Unions and even more students.

This year at UMHAN we are focussing on two key aspects for UMHD – we are running a webinar which explores ‘when does anxiety become a problem?’, and we are also promoting our long-running #IChoseToDisclose campaign. This is our drive to encourage students to share information about their mental health condition with their education provider, whether that’s when they apply to university or once they’re at university. While the Higher Education (HE) sector has become a lot better about talking about student and staff mental health and promoting the support available to students, as Michelle Morgan recently discussed in a HEPI blog, there is still a real need for this campaign to dispel the negativity associated with disclosure for some students. We hope to equip prospective and current students with mental health conditions to make an informed and confident decision about sharing information about their mental health with their university. This need has been highlighted by recent high-profile cases highlighting how some students may not feel empowered to reach out to support services.

The main purpose of encouraging disclosure of mental health conditions (and other disabilities) is to ensure that students are able to access additional support to which they may be entitled while studying. While not all students who share information about their mental health will need support from specialist services, generally those with conditions deemed to be substantial, long-term, and recurring will be entitled to receive Disabled Students’ Allowances support. Additionally, these students are protected by the Equality Act 2010, and should be able to access a range of adjustments designed to ‘level the playing field’ such as exam accommodations, alternative assessments, or flexible deadlines. And for those students unsure as to whether their condition meets these criteria, disclosure can be a way of finding out.

It’s important to note that medical evidence and formal processes are not necessarily needed to make adjustments; we know that requirements to provide such evidence can often be a huge barrier to students with mental health conditions for multiple different reasons and can create delays in providing essential support.

The number of students who declare they have a mental health condition is steadily rising year on year. The proportion of home students (those who normally live in the UK) who disclosed a mental health condition to their university has increased rapidly since 2010 and was over 5% in 2020/21 according to data from the Office for Students. Interestingly, a number of anonymous surveys of students have found much higher rates of mental health conditions than those disclosed to universities (Lewis and Bolton, 2023), for example, 27% of respondents said they had a diagnosed mental health condition in a 2022 Student Minds survey. This suggests that large numbers of students are still not disclosing. Why?

Perhaps it’s because they feel their difficulties aren’t ‘that bad’ or other students have it ‘worse than them’, they may not identify with the ‘disability’ label, they may be concerned about being different and standing out, stigma and being viewed negatively or even being treated unfavourably. Indeed, the most common question asked by students with a mental health condition when applying to university according to research from UCAS is ‘Will sharing information negatively affect my offer?’. They may not be aware of the range of support available to them when they apply to university or are not always reminded about it throughout their programme of study, so they see little benefit in disclosure. Once they are at university, they may not know who to disclose to, which is why we have advice on our website for students about how they can share this information. We’d encourage HE staff to signpost their students to this.

We also know from research and our own members, that there are particular cohorts of students who are not accessing timely support such as international students and male students and more work is needed to encourage these groups to reach out.

Evie Wynn, a recent graduate, wrote about her experiences of disclosing and receiving support at university for a recent UMHAN blog and this was certainly something that resonated with her experiences:

During my first year, I didn’t know the extent of support that was available to me. But this is why it was so crucial and game-changing for me when I disclosed my illness to the university – it was the first step to being able to thrive in education and maintain that important part of my life and my identity. Because I deserved that, and having a mental health condition shouldn’t hold you back from it.

There is no right or wrong decision in disclosing and it is a unique and individual choice. However, seeking support or adjustments from universities had a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ effect on their studies and other experiences for 78% of students who had chosen to disclose, according to a report from the Equality Challenge Unit in 2015.

Many universities provide a wide range of support for student mental health – much of which can be accessed by all students. However, more specialist forms of support usually require some form of information sharing for registration and triaging. If you’re not sure what help is available and want to find out more, please visit: and encourage your students to visit our For Students web pages. HE staff can also sign up to our free newsletter to receive the latest news about UMHAN and the work of our members, as well as other sector news.

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1 comment

  1. Harold A Maio says:

    Are we still teaching there is a stigma to mental health issues?

    At university?

    Is it not time we stopped?

    Surely we can stop.

    Harold A Maio

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