Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support options part two

We’ve discussed the treatment options available to us through your GP or therapy, but what else is there to choose from?

There are some options remaining that you can look into from the comfort of your own home, though, I will state for the record. It is important to discuss any treatments you want to try with your GP. There are less regulations around these treatments so it’s important to look into their legitimacy, reviews and any potential risks.

Without further ado lets get into it

Herbal home remedies

Anxiety and depression can trigger dissociation, so it may be worth looking into some herbal or home remedies if pharmaceuticals aren’t your thing.

St Johns Wart, lavender roll-ons, aroma therapy are all options to help you destress and reduce the chances of being overwhelmed. Be sure to check in with a doctor if you are on any other medications and you should first discuss it with them before you start self medicating.

Another topical treatment is CBD. I won’t get into the details but CBD is being viewed as a very helpful drug with little to no risk. CBD is made from marijuana extract but without the chemical THC. This chemical THC is what makes you feel high, its psychedelic properties are what you often associated with weed. CBD however, will not get you high and is totally legal. What’s more, research from King’s College LDN has even shown it have preventative properties when it comes to psychosis and has been shown to aid depression, anxiety and insomnia. All of which can help reduce dissociation.

When shopping around be sure to check reviews and ensure you know what dosage you’re getting. Start small and build up. Also, ensure you check for any side effects with any medications you’re on. I’m currently of an antidepressant that interacts with CBD so that it becomes metabolized by the body in excess, resulting in an increase in my medication dosage. Which could risk overdose. So be sure to look into this if you’re on any meds!

Third wave therapies

Meditations, hypnosis and mindfulness can all help with anxiety symptoms and reduce your levels of stress. In particular, mindfulness has been touted as a particularly effective treatment for dissociation.

I’ve been told, dissociation is characterised by a disconnection with everything around you, while mindfulness is characterized by a deliberate awareness of everything around you. This cognitive opposition may explain why mindfulness is seen as an effective treatment for dissociation.

However, it is suggested to be most effective when added to your daily routine. The emphasis is on learning mindfulness and integrating this mindset into your everyday life. It is not a magic solution and cannot stop dissociation when it occurs but generally can limit the severity and length of dissociative episodes if adopted into your routine.

Hypnosis sessions can be useful if you suffer with insomnia. From personal experience I find myself more anxious and more likely to dissociate if I’m tired. So hypnosis for sleep can help reduce this!

Grounding ideas – for when it’s too late

Once you’re feeling dissociated, many of these techniques may not be much use to you. That is, other than mindfulness. Techniques such as mindfulness ground you in the present, in the environment and pull you out of the dissociative blur.

The best way to do this is to incorporate your senses. What can you see? Touch? Smell? Can you name 5 things you see?

Some particularly useful methods may include heat. A cold shower, splashing cold water over your face, or holding ice in your palms have been praised for their effectiveness.

Additionally, familiar smells may help. This may be sad to admit but I had a particular room spray in a period of my life I look back on fondly. The smell itself relaxes me. The same may be true for you!

Anything that gets you invested in the present can help you in your fight against dissociation.

Resources

There are an abundance of online resources for you to choose from. So please, take a look. These resources have helped me in my understanding and appreciation for my dissociative experiences.

Carolyn Spring’s blog: https://www.carolynspring.com/blog/

Grounding tools: https://www.psychologytools.com/resource/trauma-dissociation-and-grounding/

Youtube: Multiplicity&Me, DissociaDID

Mind resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/self-care/

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – Support resources: part 1

As we’ve seen, dissociation is highly complex and variable phenomenon. With it’s roots in our past experiences, influencing our present this hard to define disruption to our perception can be tricky to live with. But what treatment options are available to us?

Let’s take a look at the main treatments available, note treatments will vary depending on your location. This summary is based on those available in the UK.

Pharmaceutical treatments

Unfortunately there are no medications that can fix or reduce dissociation directly. Dissociation exists in a relative blind spot for pharmaceutical companies. However, it is not all bad news, there are medications out there that can indirectly help with dissociation.

If you came to a doctor or mental health professional with depressive or anxious symptomology you’re more than likely going to be put onto anti-depressants. The most commonly prescribed and most-side-effect-free being SSRIs. These Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors provide individuals with a much needed relief from their most intense symptoms.

SSRIs won’t influence your mood instantly, as they take a number of weeks to take effect, but for many they provide a much needed lifeline. For those that experience dissociation as a result of environmental or personal stress such as PTSD, BD, BPD, or anxiety disorders such as OCD, these medications can significantly reduce negative symptoms. As we’ve discussed, dissociation can occur when an individual becomes overwhelmed so these SSRIs can help prevent this from occurring and by extension reduce instances of dissociation or by the very least reduce the severity of episodes.

Therapies

NHS options

There are multiple therapies available to individuals with mental health concerns. Though, the focus is generally on dealing with anxiety and depression. Dissociation is something less familiar to most in the industry so it’s important to find someone that knows what they’re talking about.

In order to find a therapist that knows their stuff it’s worth consulting with your GP or health care provider to see if you can work out the best option available to you. A good rule of thumb to remember is that – generally – trauma centres will have more knowledge and expertise on dissociation than the average therapist. So it may be worth looking there for options and even worth contacting them to discuss it with them before you request a referral.

Through the NHS you can fairly easily be assigned a therapist, but you may have to wait a while due to unfortunately long waiting lists. However, it’s important to find the right therapist, try not to settle if you feel your therapist isn’t the best fit for the job. You’re allowed to not get on with a therapist, you can request a change.

Private options

If you can afford it, and not all of us can, it may be worth seeking a private counsellor or therapist that specializes in dissociative disorders. While it can be pricey, you get the benefit of freedom of choice. You can identify therapists near you using the counselling directory, which allows you to include specific areas of expertise. What’s more, many therapists are happy to discuss their skills and knowledge before you start treatment so it’s worth emailing a brief summary of your situation, symptoms and goals, and asking them if they think they could help.

The downsides of this of course, are the costs. Dissociative disorders can be hard to shake, so fees can stack up over time. What’s more you may have to relay some information to your GP or health care provider from your therapist if you require medication or specific referrals. They can communicate but when it is NHS-NHS inhouse it can be easier for the client as they are not stuck in the the go-between role.

Specialist dissociation clinics

If you have severe dissociative symptoms you do have the option of going to see a specialist. In the UK there are currently three clinics set up that specialize in dissociation. These are, The Pottergate Centre, The Clinic for Dissociative Studies, and The CTAD Clinic. Each other these specialise in dissociation and offer the best and most informed treatment options.

Of course, the downsides of these are that they’re incredibly hard to get referred to. The Pottergate Centre is open to private treatment but if you’re looking for an assessment this will cost you at a minimum £500 and more likely over £1000. If you’re trying to get a referral through the NHS you will be required to jump through a lot of hoops.

It is likely you will be told that, because these clinics exist outside of your clinical group (your local NHS trust) you will need to be referred by secondary care and display tangible reasons for why the care provided locally is not sufficient.

This will require you getting an assessment from a psychiatrist, the waiting lists for which are…lengthy. For context, I told my GP I wanted to be referred to one of these clinics in August 2020 and so far I have spoken to a psychiatrist for 15 minutes and given another appointment in three months time. During this whole time I have been fighting to get this referral but without any luck.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it won’t be a walk in the park.

For the next instalment of support, take a look at our self-help resources.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – causes and mechanisms

Disclaimer: this is not meant as a substitute for expert advice, and help from a professional is the safest way to find answers for your concerns.

Trigger warning: reference to trauma and abuse.

Causes of dissociation

It is the widely held belief that dissociation is caused by significant trauma. Now, what is significant can vary from person to person. Contrary to common held belief there is no universal yard stick for what is and is not a traumatic experience.

A lot of research has gone into understanding trauma, but efforts on defining what constitutes a traumatic event has been ultimately abandoned. Commonalities of traumatic events such as hostility and threat are accepted but a more nuanced understanding recognises that what constitutes a trauma is an individual matter.

Many like to view trauma as an external matter, what has happened to you. It is more accurate to view trauma as internal, what you felt as events took place. This understanding far better explains the apparent variation in trauma responses from person to person.

What traumatizes one person may not traumatize another, even if the event or events they experienced were the same or similar. A multitude of personal and situational factors influence an individual’s relationship to a potentially traumatic event.

With such variation it stands to reason why there are so many disorders associated with dissociation and trauma. For many individuals, dissociation is the brains attempt and protecting you. But how does this occur?

Mechanisms of dissociation

It is commonly understood that dissociation occurs more frequently in people that have a pre-existing inclination to imagine. Yes, to imagine or day dream allows us to exist in alternate realities. Linking back to the first article in this series, many of us dissociate when we watch TV or a movie. We become emotionally engaged and moved by what we are viewing even though we know it to be fictional or staged.

This ability for dissociative states to elicit emotion is also seen in reverse. Individuals with the ability to imagine that find themselves in hostile or unsafe environments can subconsciously or consciously escape from this unpleasant environment by way of their imagination.

Escaping an environment by way of dissociation is frequently seen in children from abusive homes. Like we can escape to a dissociative state of joy or sadness when we watch TV we can also escape negative emotions in our real environment and ‘switch’ to a safer imagined or dissociated environment to protect ourselves when we become overwhelmed. This explanation is used to justify why dissociation occur in adults.

A defence mechanism out of control

Dissociation offers us an escape from negative emotions we cannot do anything about. As children have little autonomy or power in our society it is theorized dissociation is frequently used as an escape because they have no tangible control to remove themselves from the environment.

This route of escape can become a learned behaviour. Meaning that adults can experience dissociation when they become overwhelmed. This can explain why people often experience dissociation as part of an anxiety or depressive disorder. The extreme emotions are too much to handle and the brain switches to a dissociative state as a form of protection.

Issues occur as dissociation is in essence avoidance of the consciousness, making it very hard to function while dissociated. Deficits in memory, knowledge, attention and perception are all altered during dissociative states, making it hard to meet any of the demands of every day life. Not to mention, the experience of dissociation can be unnerving.

For many people, their trauma or previous dissociative experiences may be alien to them, pushed to the back of their mind in a dissociative haze. Meaning that each and every time can feel as unfamiliar and bizarre as the first. Unsurprisingly this can provoke anxiety in people, which can further drive them onto a path of dissociation as they question what is wrong and why their thoughts feel so alien to them.

For people experiencing dissociation there are tips and techniques to help manage the experience. These techniques may not 100% remove you from the dissociative state, but they can provide a sense of routine and control for those of us that struggle with the uncontrollable nature of dissociation.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – categorizing the unknown

Now we’ve discussed dissociations occurrence in every day life as well as it’s relative none-existence within my undergrad it’s time to look into how it is categorized.

Diagnosis or experience – the slight paradox of dissociation

Dissociation is understood in terms of diagnosis and dissociative type. Yet these types and diagnoses vary and overlap wildly. For instance, there are two types of dissociation known as depersonalization and derealization. The former involves a distinct feeling of being detached from ones self. Whereas derealization involves the distinct feeling of being dethatched from ones surroundings.

This detachment is described as a feeling of separation, distance, and the feeling that things or oneself are not real or fake. It is this detachment that makes dissociation so hard to pin-down. By their nature all dissociative states involve a detachment that make the perception and experience of the state hard to remember and describe. This is a unique occurrence as the individual is dissociated from the very senses they use to describe every other lived experience.

In the case of depersonalization/derealization disorder (DP/DR) these two states reoccur as the defining features of the disorder. As such it is known by this name, yet these states are also experienced within plenty of other disorders.

For example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Bipolar Disorder (BD), Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and psychosis are all closely linked with dissociation.

Yet all of these disorders have elements that make them distinctly different, despite sharing the same dissociative states.

What complicates things further is the matter of identity and dissociation. Common feelings for dissociation-plagued individuals is that of a disconnection from themselves and their identity. Yet, in more extreme cases, in what is considered the most extreme dissociative disorder a person’s identity is not only dissociated but altered.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is better but inaccurately known as Multiple Personality Disorder. This involves the fragmentation of a personality into distinct personality states separated by so-called dissociative barriers.

These barriers keep these distinct personalities – mostly – separate. For example, many of these personality states (known in the community as ‘alters’ for alternative personality states) cannot recall events experienced when another was ‘fronting’ (in control of the body). This ‘dissociative amnesia’ is integral to the memory problems reported by people that experience dissociative symptoms.

Yet, this amnesia can occur in varying forms. Either between alters, as seen in DID. Or for times during a dissociative episode. This is characterized by an ongoing and reoccurring loss of memory for these times, known as time-loss or black-outs.

On top of this, it is reported that some individuals do not knowingly experience dissociation until repressed memories emerge from an event that their brain had locked away and hidden from them.

This adds additional complexity to matters as you have an almost impossible to pin down mental state that can influence your memory of past and present events while also influencing your personality. As such, people that experience dissociation often have trouble finding the right diagnosis as dissociation exists on multiple planes. The type, severity, trigger and related disorder all impact an individuals understanding of their dissociative experience.

With all these variables, trying to find support for dissociation is all too difficult, with many health care providers ill-equipped for such matters. Making finding the right diagnosis next to impossible.

What we are yet to discuss is, why does dissociation occur? What self-help tips can you carry out daily?

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – academic reception?

As we saw in the previous article, dissociation can take many forms. What occurred me is that the subject barely came up during my undergrad in Psychology…

As a recent graduate I was well versed in the ins and outs of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), various paradigms and perspectives in Psychology with a particular focus on depression and anxiety throughout the course.

Yet the neglected concept of dissociation was all but left out of my education. I recognise that not every concept can be addressed in a bachelor’s course but when it is a concept that is integral to so many disorders and present in everyday life, I would think it deserved significantly more attention.

So I want to know, what do you know about dissociation? Have you ever come across it? And if so, how? When? Why? Comment down below!

For more on dissociation, see our next article.

Categories
Well-Being

Dissociation – two sides of the same coin

So, what is dissociation?

Dissociation is a much debated and difficult to articulate concept that alludes being pinned down by one succinct definition. This altered state of being can be experienced by most people as a typical part of their day-to-day lives. Many of us will be familiar with the experience of driving on autopilot and getting to your destination safely. This is a normal and non-disruptive procedural dissociative state. The brain functions guiding you in this state function beyond your conscious attention, you are present yet absent.

Another example of dissociation can also be seen in everyday hypnotic states. When watching a film or a television programme you find yourself emotionally moved by what you are viewing despite no real impact being made to your life or well-being.

Unfortunately, dissociation has a more disruptive, darker side. Commonly experienced as a significant disconnection between conscious attention, awareness and ones understanding of reality. Dissociation is often likened to seeing oneself floating, separate from oneself, or as living life in third person. This may be experienced as ongoing feelings of unreality of one’s self or surroundings (derealisation/depersonalisation) seen as part of PTSD, Bipolar disorders (BP), personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

These often have a basis in anxiety or trauma which often mitigate the levels of dissociation experienced. Contrastingly, dissociation can be caused by deep rooted identity manifestations such that seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and the DSM-5-unrecognised variations Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) variants A & B. This is not an exhaustive list of disorders and dissociative experiences, but an overview of dissociation in the context of mental disorders.

Due to this complexity, dissociation is an increasingly hard to categorize phenomena. For more on this, look no further than part 2.

Categories
Well-Being

Pandemic Fatigue

Nothing to do, nothing to say – advice for maintaining relationships online

If you’re anything like me, you’re still in shock that you’re living amidst a pandemic. This is the sort of thing you might watch a movie about, probably not a great movie but one you could throw on when you have friends over. But to live it each day, it’s a lot more…meh…than I would have imagined.

Don’t get me wrong multiple parts of the pandemic are truly awful, and it’s been a rough ride for many of us, particularly for those who have lost loved ones or faced eviction from their homes. To all of which I offer my sincere sympathies. Yet, a certain aspect of the pandemic that is perhaps more trivial has really caught my eye.

The beginning of the pandemic saw a huge uptake in video calls. Of course, we all were aware of Facetime and Skype and for those of us in my school year I’m sure you remember such classics as MSN video chat. Yet suddenly, about a week into lockdown everyone and their dog were on group zoom calls making efforts to get in contact with everyone they knew amidst the panic of the first lockdown and the solitude it would impose on so many of us. But that was then, now it seems we’ve moved into another phase of the pandemic. No more zoom quizzes and family get togethers posted all over people’s stories, no, in this phase we have entered a form of social etiquette seen between an infant and caregiver.

Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

Mutual reciprocity – late-stage pandemic etiquette

Has anyone else noticed they’ve gone from contacting their friends and family frequently to now barely speaking. Maybe you have some empty chit chat throughout the day with a close friend but generally, its an empty void. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Conversations are repetitive and dry. One rule has emerged, conversations about the pandemic are off limits. I’m terming this ‘pandemic fatigue’. After a year since the first UK lockdown, it seems nobody wants to talk about it anymore. But how do you know when is safe to discuss it and when are your nearest and dearest not in the mood?

This new relationship between one and their social circle has become oddly similar to that of ‘mutual reciprocity’. Renowned researcher in developmental Psychology John Bowlby put forward the case for this reciprocity as a core mutual interaction that occurs between infants and mothers. What this concept suggests is that a mother – or more appropriately – a caregiver enter into states of reciprocity with their child. This can be initiated by either infant or caregiver and during these stages learning and bonding occurs via facial expressions and mimicry of one another. Surely, we’ve all seen it, a baby smiles at you and you smile back and suddenly you’ve been fawning over this baby for 15 minutes. The key link to socializing in month 12 of the pandemic is the momentary and fleeting nature of these interactions and there almost spontaneous occurrence. For those of us experiencing a complete lack of social skills, spotting when is the right and wrong moment to try and discuss the P-word can prove tricky.

Dealing with ‘pandemic reciprocity’ – tips for going it alone

During moments of ‘pandemic reciprocity’ your stars align, and you and your co-conversationalist find yourselves in the mood to talk about the dreaded pandemic. These times occur when one or more of you give the indication that you’d like to discuss it. After an undecided amount of time the conversation is signalled to be over by the presentation of the statement, ‘it’s fine, it’ll be alright eventually…’. At which point the reciprocal state is ended and conversation reverts back to the safe small talk and slow replies.

Now, these moments can be rewarding and fun but fundamentally they’re the exception and not the rule. The rest of the time, we can find ourselves either wanting more from our friends or our friends want more from us than we have the energy for. Below are some tips for coping, managing your expectations and enjoying these fleeting moments.

  1. Stay mindful – remember that you and your friends and family are likely on different schedules, with different needs weighing on them. You can’t always get the level of attention you crave at any time like you could pre-pandemic. It might suck but it’s an unfortunate fact of life. Try and remember this next time you don’t get the response you hoped for.
  • The same is true for yourself, don’t be hard on yourself when your friends want more than you can give. You’re allowed to be busy, you’re allowed to not be in the mood. You’re entitled to your own privacy and your own space.
  • Bring something to the table – It may feel somewhat false or rehearsed to plan ahead for a conversation with a friend but having something in mind can be helpful when living the same day over and over. Particularly, reminiscing on the ‘good times’ can have psychological benefits for the both of you. Try and focus on the good times you’ve had without being drawn toward the negative fact that you cannot meet up any longer.
  • Only good may enter – Try not to want too much from others. That may be hard, harder now than ever, but doing so can worsen your mood and day-to-day experiences. Reaching out to a friend can provide a warm nostalgic feeling, a comfort blanket of sorts. Yet, if they’re feeling particularly pandemic-fatigued or not in the mood, this feeling of dashed hopes for discussion or catch up can leave you feeling down. Do your best to reach out to your loved ones with a pinch of salt. If they’re not in the mood, don’t let it phase you. Treat it like water off a duck’s back. Prepare yourself for enjoyment with negative feelings of dejection or being let down wash away.
  • Be your own boss – This tip involves taking the place of the social bonds you’re missing. Many of us are missing the social contact we once took for granted, with many realising this contact tied into our very self-image and is integral to how we view ourselves. With this gone many are feeling at a loss, struggling to define themselves now they’re in almost complete isolation. If this sounds familiar, try to tackle this by taking the place that this social interaction once took. Ask yourself, what you think about certain things, and in time you’ll realise you still have all the opinions and feelings you always had. You do not need others to teach you who you are, you need only consult with yourself.
  • Manage expectations – A tricky one but this tip offers great benefits. Consider what it is you hope to gain from interactions with others. Is it realistic? Is it helpful? The pandemic has shaken things up, so perhaps take it as an opportunity to rethink your relationships with others. If you’re seeking approval from others, ask yourself why? You have the ability to be as independent and self-fulfilling as anyone else. Once you see you may be hoping for too much from others it may be time to look inside and consider what it is, you’re missing and what you can do to achieve this.
  • Journal or diary – Yes, I know you’re tired of being asked to start a diary. Wherever you look on the internet there’s always some tired blogger running on coffee alone telling the world they *need* to start a diary. Sadly, I am one of them – though I’m more of a green tea fan myself. A journal or diary can really help you keep track of what’s going on around you, it’s easy to feel cut off or almost floating in a void of nothing. A journal allows you to look back and look ahead, grounding you in reality. Think of it as an exercise in testing out these tips, record how they work out for you and see if you think they’d benefit you in the long term. Just give it a try!
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels

Give these tips a try and see if they help you get more out of the limited interaction available this far into the pandemic.

Good luck out there!

Categories
Well-Being

Disabled Students Allowance – what you need to know

‘Disabled Students Allowance – mental health review’

What is it?

The Disabled Students Allowance is set up to provide support for students with recognised disabilities. The services, products and support provided as part of a DSA are unlike other government funded financial aid such as those given by Student Finance England (SFE) as these are free to the recipient and do not constitute a loan and are not repayable.

Who is eligible?

Anyone with a recognised disability is eligible. This includes various physical disabilities as well as mental health related disabilities. As the latter is what I received support for, this is what my experience centres around.

Eligibility is based on medical evidence provided by the applicant, usually the form of doctors note or records. The cost of which must be provided by the applicant, for which you are not reimbursed. This can cost from £10-£20 depending on the complexity of your case, but once you’ve received the note it can be used on multiple occasions as they require only a copy.

The only caveat is that you must speak with your doctor prior to applying for a DSA to ensure that your notes reflect the issues you wish to get support for. If not, your note may not evidence the full extent of your disability. Furthermore, it may not provide sufficient information to grant your application. It can be a pain with long waiting times for GPs but it’s an unfortunate necessity.

Mental health conditions?

As stated, my experience of the process is that of a student with mental health conditions, for which a variety of options are available after an initial consultation with a registered assessor.

Initial application process

The application can seem daunting at first but do not let it dissuade you! On the DSA website you can download an application booklet to fill out and apply. It looks full on, but the majority of the sections can be skipped, and the bulk of the booklet will be left blank!

It was during my consultation with my university that led me to apply for a DSA as they were familiar with the application documents so managed to put my mind at ease when it came to filling it out. So, it is well worth checking in with your university’s team!

Evidence

As previously mentioned, along with the application you must submit your evidence. It is important that you check ahead of time that the GP or evidence source is fully aware of your disability and that this is reflected in your evidence. The DSA team need to see a consistency between what you describe and what your evidence outlines. But don’t stress you can speak about this with your GP before you apply for the doctors note and ensure that the correct details are in your doctors records. Additionally, if your evidence doesn’t quite outline things the way you would prefer, you are able to request edits to the note within the first few days of it being submitted to you. Though this may differ at the discretion of differing general practices.

The next stage – needs assessment

After submitting your evidence and your application has presumably been accepted you will be contacted to initiate the next stage of the process. Note, the burden is on you to chase up this correspondence and organise it. You will be sent a confirmation letter and a link to the site in which you can register for the next stage.

This stage is the specific assessment of your needs. You must book yourself in for a session with one of these centres, the cost of which is covered by your DSA and you do not need to fund this yourself at all. Mine took place via Zoom due to covid regulations but usually they take place in person, so it is prudent to choose an assessment centre nearby!

This assessment took roughly an hour and was with a very helpful staff member – though due to various centres the standard and approach may vary between them! The key aim of this session is to assess the ways in which your disability can negatively impact on your studies and how this can be helped.

This means that the support available will vary greatly based on two key factors, your disability and the particular course you’re on. For me, short term memory and reading was a key difficulty, and I was provided with software to help with these factors. It’s advisable to check the assessor is aware of the fundamental aspects of your disability and the key requirements of your course. It is worth coming prepared with important aspects noted down to ensure you do not forget anything important.

What support you could get

From what I can tell the support for mental health conditions is split into 3 categories.

  • The first is software. Different programmes are paid for and provided as part of a DSA. It must be agreed that each programme would help in an area that your disability disadvantages you Vs. a typical student without this disability.
  • The second is hardware. As part of a DSA you may be provided with additional hardware such as a new laptop or microphone/headphones. For me this was due to my current laptop being too slow to operate the software I required. There is a £200 non-refunded fee the applicant must pay towards the laptop. It can be delivered to your door with programmes fully installed.
  • The third and final is tutoring. This comes in two forms, tutoring for programmes and technology provided to ensure the applicant can use the software to the best of its potential. The other is personal academic tutoring. Weekly sessions provided to help applicants stay on track throughout their course. All of which are funded by the DSA.

Accessing equipment with DSA letter

Roughly 10 working days after your assessment your final DSA confirmation letter will be sent out to you and your university. This provides you with a full rundown of what you will be provided with along with the costs for each item. This letter will also have the contact information for suppliers you need to access your equipment. This letter should be sent to these companies as evidence for your DSA after which they will place your order.

Overview

All in all, it’s a great option for those that feel their mental health negatively impacts upon your performance. Here are my final thoughts:

Pros:

  • Tailored to your needs – assessments allow you a good amount of time to discuss your issues and how the DSA could help mediate or resolve them.
  • Once evidence is provided it feels more relaxed and you are no longer having to ‘prove’ the impacts of your disability. It felt like my assessor was really on my side.
  • Non-repayable – Other than a £200 upfront fee for a laptop, you do not have to pay back any of the money used to fund the DSA.
  • Helpful assessors – the assessor I had was helpful and wanted to see me get the best outcome possible.
  • Training – this training also allows you to get the best out of the software or hardware provided. Taking place over Zoom.
  • Pretty straight forward – It does take a little while and can seem like a chore but overall, it’s pretty easy to access and understand what’s happening during the process. If I can do it, anyone can.

Cons:

  • You must do a fair bit of form filling and booking etc. But it isn’t as much as it seems at first.
  • Must do a lot yourself – like the point above, the burden is on you to book your assessment centre, order your equipment by citing the DSA letter etc. All of which can seem like a lot to worry about if you already suffer from anxiety or depression. My only advice is to focus on how it is worth it in the end.
  • Long lead times – the process is relatively quick but with so many components involved it can take some time (checking with your GP, application, providing evidence, booking assessment, waiting for assessment to be filed, waiting for DSA confirmation letter, ordering, and waiting for equipment, starting training etc.) Realistically it will take some weeks to complete the entire process, so it’s best to apply sooner rather than later particularly if you need the support ASAP.
  • Still up to you – obviously, this is no magic fix for your condition(s), the work still needs to be done and deadlines may still cause you stress and anxiety. However, the support should help counteract some of this.
  • Not covering breakages – the DSA receipt/confirmation letter states that the equipment is not covered for breakages or replacements so keep your equipment in good working order. Better yet invest in preventative measures such as a protective case. Additionally, you can insure your device(s) using student friendly tech insurers.
  • Upfront costs – while the majority of the DSA is totally free a £200 upfront fee is required if you need a new laptop. This is steep for most people, but it is fairly cheap compared to the overall DSA costs. You can seek support by applying for grants. Some universities also do offer a refund procedure for this, so it is worth checking with your disability or well-being team.

Overall, it is a helpful service that offers a lot of tangible support as well as providing the feeling that you have got back some control over your life. I know I felt in a kind of, freefall, for a while but now knowing I have put the effort in to take steps to help myself I feel more secure in what I can do.