"Does it Count?" Mental Health and Disability

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“Does it count?” is a question I’ve heard many times when talking about disability and being disabled. Many people are unsure about if their condition or symptoms mean they can identify as disabled. This is especially the case when it comes to “invisible disabilities” like some mental health conditions. 

Knowing whether you “count”  is an important issue. Being disabled means you are entitled to reasonable adjustments and are afforded rights such as protection from discrimination. This blog post aims to provide some clarity on why and how experiencing some mental health conditions means you “count” as disabled, what rights being disabled means you have, and what support you can get in the university.

The Meaning of “Disabled”

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as any long-term physical or mental impairment which substantially affects your ability to carry out normal daily activities.  In this context, long-term means your condition has lasted longer than 12 months or is expected to last longer than 12 months (and this includes fluctuating conditions too).

Although the Equality Act 2010 definition is a common one, there are other ways of viewing what it means to be disabled. Two of the most common models of disability (although not the only ones!) are the Social Model of Disability and the Medical Model of Disability. The medical model says that disabled people are disabled as a result of their condition whereas the social model says people are disabled as a result of barriers that society places. 

The Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre's (ADRC) definition of disabled people is based on the social model of disability. It includes “all those who experience barriers in accessing education due to having or being considered to have an impairment”.

Do Mental Heath Conditions Count?

The definitions of disabled and disability previously mentioned could include many mental health conditions! By the Equality Act 2010 definition, you count as disabled if your mental health condition lasts 12 months (or is expected to last 12 months) and has an impact on your daily life. By the ADRC definition, you count as disabled if you have experienced barriers to education as a result of your condition. For example, under both of these definitions, if your mental health condition makes it difficult for you to concentrate on your studies, that would count as being disabled!

Support for Disabled Students

There is a variety of support available for disabled students, including disabled students with mental health conditions.

The Accessibility and Disability Resource Centre is part of the Student Support Department and provides direct support for disabled students. If you register with them, they can provide you with a student support document (SSD). This lays out what academic adjustments you are entitled to. For example, having extended loan periods for books, taking exams in college or in a quiet space, access to lecture recordings, essay extensions and more. They can also provide students with mentoring. Indirectly, the ADRC also works with lecturers and academics to train them on how to support disabled students.

Although not disability specific, the rest of the Student Support Department can help support disabled students. In addition to the ADRC, the student-facing parts of the Student Support Department are the Mental Health Advice Service, the University Counselling Service and the Harassment and Violence Support Service. Additionally, soon there will also be a Student Wellbeing Team.

The Cambridge SU Student Advice Service provides confidential and impartial advice and support to all Cambridge University students. For example, this could include navigating being a disabled student in Cambridge, how to start a complaint or how to get exam adjustments!

The Disabled Students’ Campaign

The Cambridge SU Disabled Students’ Campaign (DSC) is a group in which all Cambridge students who identify as being disabled are a member. As well as campaigning against ableism in the university, the DSC also holds social events and runs several peer support groups.

There are several ways to get involved with the Disabled Students’ Campaign. As a disabled student, you are always welcome to attend any of our events and participate in our peer support groups. The DSC also has an executive committee who are involved in running the DSC. For example, by planning events, looking after our finances, planning projects to improve the disabled student experience and more!




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