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Durham University

Counselling Service

Mental Health Policy


The aims of the Mental Health Policy are:

  • To set out the framework in which the University provides students with mental health difficulties the opportunity to reach their full academic potential;
  • To provide practical advice and guidance to those staff responding to students with mental health difficulties.

The majority of students with mental health difficulties are able to navigate their University careers successfully through a combination of self-care, pastoral support in Colleges, adjustments within their academic Departments, specialist support services and the support offered by external services. A minority of students experience difficulty in acknowledging the impact of their mental health upon their safety, wellbeing, their academic progression and their capacity to engage in the wider student experience.

The Mental Health Policy Statement below contains the University’s statement of its commitment to support. Appendix 3 contains guidance for staff supporting students with mental health difficulties and sets out the framework in which staff will address student support needs, specifically the mechanisms of informal and formal Support Meetings. A full procedure for a formal Support Meeting is set out in Appendix 4. Appendices 5-8 contain information and guidance on medical evidence that may need to be considered in Support Meetings or upon a return to study following a concession on mental health grounds, along with pro-forma examples of requests for evidence. A separate student-facing Guidance note with advice for students on support provision and academic concessions on mental health grounds is available on the Counselling Service website.

In exceptional circumstances, where there are concerns about a student’s welfare and where the range of supportive measures that the University may be reasonably expected to provide have been employed but have not satisfactorily resolved concerns, the appropriate policy and procedure is Fitness to Study. The policy applies for all conditions where there are concerns about a student’s capacity to engage in academic engagements, maintain their own safety or to reside in College communities without adversely impacting their peers or College staff. A flowchart outlining the intersection of the Mental Health Policy and the Fitness to Study Policy is presented in Appendix 2.

(1) Terminology

This Policy uses the broad term mental health difficulties to describe the issues that fall within its scope. A useful framework to describe the continuum of mental health is presented in Appendix 1.

Mental wellbeing is a dynamic state that describes our current capacity to enjoy life and to workproductively and creatively, our ability to build and sustain positive relationships with ourselves and with others.

Mental illness can be acute or chronic, and may arise from organic, genetic, psychological,relational or behavioural factors (or any combination of these). The illness may fall within the definition of a ‘disability’ as set out in the Equality Act 2010, but not all mental health illnesses constitute a ‘disability’. A mental illness may be, but is not limited to, a condition diagnosed by a medical professional. An individual with a long-term mental illness may nevertheless experience good mental wellbeing if they are adequately resourced and supported in managing their condition.

(2) Policy Statement

The University aims to provide a challenging, stimulating and purposeful academic environment with the greatest opportunities for social, cultural, sporting and spiritual engagement. In this way, the University aims to make a positive contribution to the mental health and wellbeing of all students and staff.

Mental health difficulties can beset students at any point in their academic career, and some students may begin their studies with pre-existing conditions. The higher education experience at Durham is competitive and high-achieving, in which some students will thrive but for others may present a challenge to wellbeing. It is well-recognised that transitions in life can be times of acute stress. However participation in Durham University also presents an opportunity to develop resilience, independence and skills to manage one’s own wellbeing and contribute to the wellbeing of others.

The University aims to provide a supportive environment in which all students, including those with mental health difficulties, have the opportunity to realise their full potential and meet the academic requirements of their programmes of study.

The University aims to promote a culture in which mental health difficulties are recognised and supported. It will ensure that students are not disadvantaged, academically or otherwise, because of their difficulties in accordance with the University's Equality and Diversity Policy. The University has specific responsibilities towards those students whose mental health is defined as a disability under the law to ensure that reasonable adjustments are put in place to support their learning. Where a student is facing academic progression or disciplinary processes, and mental health may be a contributing factor, the student will be offered support to protect their longer-term academic prospects.

However the University recognises that the students are individual, adult learners, with a responsibility to contribute to their own self-care and to contribute to the quality and wellbeing of the University community. Students are invited to engage appropriately and professionally with the support available, where mental health difficulties are adversely affecting the student’s capacity to engage productively with their studies or with the University community. The

University will assist students to understand the support provision within the University, within its remit as an education institution, and to assist students to access appropriate external support where necessary.

The University seeks to implement these aims by:

  • Providing pastoral and welfare support services within the College environment and access to specialists in the Counselling and Disability Support Services, in addition to the support services provided through an external body such as the Durham Students' Union;
  • Encouraging students with mental health difficulties to make these known to the University and to seek support both pre-arrival and after they have commenced their studies, and at such times that their support needs may change, for example in undertaking work or study placements abroad;
  • Taking a proactive and collaborative stance in supporting students to develop a support plan; Ensuring that transparent and consistent procedures are adopted across the University and
  • its constituent Colleges to support students with mental health difficulties;
  • Providing clear guidance on the confidentiality of personal information provided by students; Providing guidance, training and support to staff involved in student support;
  • Maintaining strong links with local specialist mental health services to improve the provision of services to meet students’ needs and referring students with mental health difficulties to services when appropriate.

Whilst the University is committed to providing a supportive environment, it is important to recognise that it is not a mental health facility nor is it a therapeutic community. There are, of necessity, limits to the extent of the support that can be provided and it is not the responsibility of the University to replicate services that already exist within the wider community and within the NHS. The University cannot provide treatment for mental illness but aims to provide an environment and the resources to support students to maximise their sense of mental wellbeing.

A positive approach from students and University staff towards the management of mental health conditions is critical to student learning, academic achievement and the quality of the wider student experience for all.