Frequently Asked Questions for Graduate Students

Am I eligible for MHDS services as a Graduate student?

MHDS provides educational assistance, social support and advocacy for undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate students who enroll with our program manage, among other mental health challenges, depression, bi-polar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. Registration with a mental health disability is confidential.

Will my professors or Graduate Program Director know I am enrolled?

Any disclosure to faculty or your department would require your written permission. Students only need to enroll once with MHDS in order to be eligible for disability accommodation throughout their Masters or Doctorate degrees.

Will I be perceived as competent if I join Mental Health Disability Services?

Yes, you will still be a competent student. Graduate students are often reluctant to seek academic accommodation through registration with our program. Stigma is very pervasive, contributing to concerns about applying for scholarships and being taken seriously as an aspiring academic. The pressure to complete Masters and Doctoral programs in a timely fashion is a powerful deterrent to disclosure. Academic accommodation, however, can facilitate degree completion.

How much information do I have to disclose as a Graduate student?

Disclosure to Professors, Committee Members, Graduate Program Directors (GPD) and the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) is an individual choice. Graduate students are protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code from disclosing diagnosis or the nature of their disability. As such, interaction with faculty can be on the basis of a documented disability. Given the episodic nature of mental health disabilities, academic accommodations provide the opportunity to complete graduate degrees, and support recovery when symptoms or relapse prevent full participation. Your counsellor in MHDS can help you plan and negotiate managing your mental health and your graduate degree.

When do I have to disclose to the department, committee members or professors?

Most students choose not to disclose while applying to graduate school, due to concerns about stigma. Once accepted, you can disclose what is sufficient to ensure academic accommodation. Disclosure of academic needs may well result in a more productive experience in your academic program. Again, this does not necessitate disclosure of diagnosis, but rather of documented disability. You may benefit from more flexibility or more contact with course directors for feedback. Often graduate students disclose to faculty and departments when they are in crisis. This can be disempowering and the student may disclose more than the Ontario Human Rights Code and University Policies require. Once again, disclosure can be discussed throughout your degree with a MHDS counsellor. Every graduate student will develop his or her own comfort level around disclosure.

What types of academic accommodations are available to Graduate students?

Standard forms of academic accommodations may include extensions on course work, and extra time for exams at the Masters and Doctoral level. Leave of absences can also be facilitated, if necessary. Your MHDS counsellor can help you strategize negotiating with Academic Committees, Supervisors and Graduate Program Directors (GPD). Accommodation letters can be addressed to Committee Members, Supervisors or GPDs or more informal arrangements can be discussed.

How do I petition to take a leave of absence?

Due to the episodic nature of mental health disabilities, graduate students may request a leave of absence for a term or longer. Graduate students may also request voluntary withdrawal from their program of study and petition for reinstatement or readmission at a later date. Many departments can accommodate graduate students without necessitating formal leaves of absences or withdrawal.  Speak to your MHDS counsellor, and plan how to approach your Professor and/or Graduate Program Director for advice. If a leave is appropriate, FGS has a petition form which requires a brief statement, the support of the Graduate Program Director, and brief supporting letters from your MHDS counsellor and medical professional. The petition is read by an Academic Petition Committee in FGS. Check with Student Affairs in FGS regarding how the leave will impact fees and other forms of funding.  If withdrawal followed by later reinstatement is appropriate, FGS has a forms for these purposes as well.

Is there financial aid specifically for Graduate students with mental health disabilities?

If you are receiving OSAP, you are automatically eligible for the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD), which is awarded every academic year. The BSWD covers disability related educational costs such as adaptive technology, tutoring and some counselling not covered by OHIP. The Office for Student Financial Services strongly recommends that all students, including graduate students, apply for OSAP, as you may be eligible for the BSWD. Those who are registered with MHDS or other disability offices check the permanent disability box on the OSAP form. Even if you think you are not eligible, an OSAP worker can reassess an application once it has been submitted. In addition, FGS provides bursary support: See the FGS website for Financial Support.

How can I best manage my studies and paid work such as teaching assistantships, graduate assistantships and research assistantships?

Many students enrolled with MHDS work as teaching assistants while pursuing their graduate degree. Others work as graduate assistants or research assistants as a way to manage their work load and prioritize their mental health. This is a very individual decision. You can discuss your employment choices with your academic advisor, a supportive professor or your GPD. Contacting the appropriate union for more information is also recommended. You need not discuss your disability during these discussions. You may note instead your strategy for focusing on your academic work. Speaking directly to your OSAP worker is also important.

As a Graduate student, is Learning Skills Services at the CDS relevant to me?

Counselling & Disability Services employs Learning Skills specialists who work with graduate students preparing for comprehensive exams, and working on theses and dissertations. This service is free. You can continue to work with this specialist at a pace that suits your needs. The service provided goes beyond essay tutoring, and has played a large part in assisting individual graduate students in complete important stages of their degrees.

How can I receive support from other Graduate students with mental health disabilities?

Since Graduate students are more mature and independent, we have shifted our focus towards a balance between professional support and a student leadership model. We have two initiatives in place:

  1. There is an informal peer support group for graduate students. During the group meetings students engage in stimulating conversations about stress, relationships with family and friends, mental health issues, sharing graduate school experiences, success stories, etc. For more information contact MHDS.
  2. There is an opportunity for upper level graduate students to support new graduate students during one-on-one informal meetings through the fall and winter terms. The upper level graduate student is paid through an award provided by the Office of Student Financial Services. The support can involve familiarizing a new graduate student to the campus, or discussing the informal knowledge of surviving as a graduate student at York.