My DSA Experience
The Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is a fund for students with a disability that affects their ability to study. Under this bracket falls mental health conditions, learning disabilities and medical conditions. (See link for more: https://www.ucas.com/finance/additional-funding/disabled-students-allowances-dsas). The DSA involves a need assessment, where a specialist will discuss what adjustments need to be made to help you reach your potential academically.
I first heard of the DSA at the end of my first year of University. I was struggling with my mental health and my mental health coordinator suggested that I accessed help from the DSA. However, I insisted that I did not need or want any further help beyond talking to a GP.
Fast forward six months, I was diagnosed and awaiting treatment for a mental health condition. Again, I declined to access further support from the DSA. I was put off by the term ‘disability.’ It didn’t seem right, because I did not feel impacted my conditions, therefore it did not feel like a “real” disability. However, being a psychology student, I was fully aware that “disability” is anything that affects your daily functioning. Therefore, struggling to get out of bed and get into University, is something that affects my ability to function. But still, I refused to access the help.
Soon enough, I fell into a bad place. I went to lectures and handed in my assignments on time, but asides from that, I was not eating or sleeping properly. Additionally, I was isolating myself. At this point, my mental health coordinator brought up the DSA again. However, I was in such a bad place that my focus was getting through each day. I didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with filling in forms. I got out of that bad patch and my mental health coordinator mentioned the DSA again, but I insisted that I was fine. I was caught in a vicious cycle; too unwell to access help, then too ‘well’ to justify accessing help.
However, persistent that I access further help, my mental health coordinator printed out the DSA forms. She told me that I did not have to fill it in, but that it was better for me to have a safety net for when things got bad. I could access the help and get the funding, but not use it until I needed it. I had no excuse anymore. I filled in the forms during the session. The next day, I asked my GP for medical evidence and the day after, I sent it off. It was done!
Following this, I had a needs assessment. The needs assessor recommended that I see a mental health mentor and some assistive technology that would make assessments a lot easier. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from student finance to confirm the funding and giving me a list of contacts to arrange for help.
I did not access the help straight away, but a couple of weeks after, I contacted the Mental Health and Wellbeing department to arrange to see a mental health mentor weekly.
Accessing the DSA was the best decision that I made. I am in the third year now and having a mental health mentor to support me with the practical aspects of my degree. My mental health has affected my ability to plan my time, complete deadline and keep calm and my sessions with my mentor have helped me to develop in these areas.