Mental Health Difficulty

Mental Health Difficulty - what is it?


  • Mental health difficulties represent a serious on-going difficulty across aspects of everyday life. Those registered with the Disability Support Service have been identified as requiring special assistance to enable them to manage their academic and vocational goals successfully.
  • Mental health is an umbrella term pertaining to how we perceive and feel about ourselves and others. It also relates to our ability to cope with change, transition and the stresses of everyday life and is an essential component of general health and wellbeing.
  • Poor mental health affects our ability to cope with and manage our lives, particularly during personal change and through key life events, and decreases our ability to participate fully in life.
  • Mental health problems can be transient, cyclical or more permanent.


615 students or 9% of students registered with disabilities in Higher Education in Ireland have Mental Health Difficulties (AHEAD, 2011).

Common Conditions

Signs and Symptoms

  • The person with depression may become overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • Depressed mood.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Obvious disinterest in all activities most of the time.
  • Withdrawal from activity/unexplained absences. There is likely to be a significant drop in attendance rates of those who are experiencing mental health difficulties. The student who is having difficulties may exhibit avoidant behaviours such that they no longer engage in day to day college life.
  • Significant weight loss / weight gain
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate.
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleeping patterns

How can you help?

Please refer to the section on Inclusive Teaching and Assessment.

Assessments, particularly when formal (assignments and examinations), can be stressful and cause the student to perform below standard. Practice, reassurance and possible extensions on assignments may help a student to overcome this.

For many students, a condition may be variable and they may experience periods of particular difficulty. This may require some understanding and flexibility.

The combined effects of medication and the disturbed sleeping patterns of many people with mental health difficulties can affect a student’s ability to participate and to keep up-to-speed with continuous assessment. Flexibility around deadlines is recommended.

People are not always willing to open up about their problems but you can help by offering to listen whenever they feel ready to talk.

If you do not feel equipped to help, encourage students to talk to a professional or expert. Offer to arrange an appointment with the Student Counselling and Development Service, the Disability Support Service or the Student Health Service.

Supports available through DSS

  • Please refer to the section on Inclusive Teaching and Assessment.
  • When the student registers with the Disability Support Service they receive a detailed needs assessment report
  • It is a collaborative document between the student and the disability advisor, parts of which are circulated to their department.
  • This report details the supports that the student needs at higher level
  • Staff persons at the Disability Support Service liaise on occasion with the Student Counselling and Development Service and the Student Health Service to give a multi-disciplinary approach to support and inclusion of students with mental health difficulties in UCC.
  • The Disability Support Service will also put in place, exam accommodations, assistive technology, and should the student require, act as an advocate on their behalf.
  • Uplift to Positive Mental Health - Peer ledmentor programme which helps students to integrate better in to college life and thereby enhances their social and academic development. For further details of the Uplift to Positive Mental Health programme please contactthe Disability Support service at


Reasonable Accommodations

  • Provide lecture notes in advance - The person with Mental Health Difficulties may have specific anxiety about attending lectures or increased fatigue and lethargy due to depression which may make attendance difficult. Providing lecture notes in advance on Blackboard allows students to become acquainted with the subject material before the lecture. This may lessen anxiety about participating in the lecture and lessen withdrawal.
  • Be flexible with deadlines where possible - At times it may be difficult for the person with Mental Health Difficulties to initiate work that has to be done. It can also be difficult for students to prioritise work and set realistic goals for themselves. Time management is also affected so the person may struggle with deadlines and managing their time in terms of working constructively toward a goal.
  • Prioritised reading lists - Often student's thought processes will be disrupted by Mental Health Difficulties and thus they may find it difficult to prioritise information. Decreased concentration and stamina when finding information can be worsened if that information turns out not to be the most relevant on the reading list and thus prioritised reading lists accommodates the student to engage more easily with the pertinent texts.
  • Ten minutes per hour extra in exams - Concentration issues may lead to extra time being needed in the exam. The student might also use this time to engage in some in chair relaxation techniques if they are feeling over anxious.

Recommendations for Examination Accommodations

  • Extra time – 10 minutes per hour.
  • Rest breaks during the examination.
  • Separate Room – in cases of serious difficulties.


Disability Support Service

South Lodge, UCC, College Road, Cork