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Emma: Don't cut me out

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Today, NUS is holding a national constituency-based lobby of MPs opposing the cuts to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). It is incredibly important that we outline how dangerous and damaging these cuts can be.

The proudest day of my life and my struggle to get there.

I first went to university when I was 18 in the mid-90s. I had been diagnosed with depression before moving away from home to go to university but had very little support once there. I hid my problems and I really struggled. My depression worsened and eventually I agreed to a voluntary hospital admission.

This was at a time when mental health problems were still very much a taboo subject. When the university found out I was asked to leave the course. I was too unwell to put up a fight, or even to find advice on what was happening, and I left.

At the age of 30, after undergoing DBT and Art Therapy, I decided to study again and applied to the University of Bradford. I was offered a place and initially I was too afraid of discrimination to declare my mental health problems because of what had happened to me in the past. It felt like someone was going to tap me on the shoulder any minute and say there had been a mistake, I shouldn't be there. My depression worsened through the winter and the pressure of keeping it to myself, along with the feelings of shame at having something to hide, made it so much worse.

After a while I couldn't face going into lectures. One of the lecturers phoned me at home to see if I was alright. I admitted my mental health problems to her and she then phoned me every day for a few minutes to keep in touch and make sure I was OK. Nobody had ever done that before and it meant a lot to me.

When I returned to university the lecturer encouraged me to officially disclose my health problem and apply for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). It seemed like a big risk what if I faced more discrimination? She also explained that it is confidential and that university staff are not told why someone has adjustments, so nobody would know unless I wanted them to.

I had to challenge my own self-stigma and overcome my fears, or I could see myself leaving this degree course too. I applied for DSA and received a comprehensive package of support including subsidised taxis to university to make it easier to face when my depression was bad, a laptop, printer and text books because I found it hard to use the university library due to my anxiety. My DSA also paid for a mentor to help me with motivation problems and study skills and a notetaker, as I was missing big bits of lectures due to concentration problems. Further adjustments included extra time and a separate room for exams.

I relied heavily on the support for the first 3 years of my course and gradually needed less. In my third year I received a Regional Adult Learner of the Year award in recognition of my academic achievements, despite health difficulties. This seemed a big turnaround from being asked to leave university all those years ago to now being given an award!

There were many times that I felt like giving up but I felt, this time round, that this university was behind me, encouraging me every step of the way. I graduated after 7 years with a first class Master of Pharmacy degree and it was the proudest day of my life. I really doubt I would have achieved this without asking for support, so if you are a student with mental health problems, please ask for help, don’t keep it all to yourself.

To find out more about the NUS campaign to protect Disabled Students Allowance, please click here.


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