Embedding wellbeing into the curriculum

The International Network of Inclusive Practice would like to invite you to our next event bringing together academics, researchers, students, learning developers , disability and student support professionals.

This event is focussing on ‘Embedding well-being into the curriculum’ and will include opportunities to hear from academics, including Kate Lister from the Open University, Professor Richard Waites from the University of York and students and university professional support colleagues about their progress and challenges to date in implementing inclusive wellbeing practice in teaching and learning.

Kate will be sharing her perspectives on successful strategies for embedding mental wellbeing into the curriculum whilst Richard will give an overview of recent work on engaging with students about wellbeing issues. Additionally, there will be discussions on implementing the whole university approach as envisaged in the University Mental Health Charter, a student view of the importance of wellbeing which moves beyond the use of support services in teaching and learning spaces.

As with our previous event we will be holding this 2-hour session on Remo enabling networking as well as presentations.

If you want to book a ticket please do so through our Eventbrite page:

Embedding well-being into the curriculum Tickets, Wed 24 Mar 2021 at 14:00 | Eventbrite

Universal Design for Learning: Delivering Inclusive Teaching

Inside Government training course online delivery: 9th & 10th February

I’ll be delivering this course with my colleague Professor Nicki Martin.

The Universal Design for Learning Training Course will offer comprehensive support and interactive guidance on how universities can create, implement and deliver an inclusive approach to the learning experience to support improved student engagement and reduce barriers to learning for disadvantaged and disabled students.

Through expert training, the course will offer interactive discussion and solution focussed workshops to allow participants to develop their own strategy on embedding Universal Design for Learning (UDL) within their course development, teaching practices and assessment delivery.

The course will offer practical takeaways on pedagogy for course leaders and will deliver tips and guidance on how the learning experience can be transformed within your institution. The course will also explore how inclusive learning practices can evolve to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis and the shift to virtual and blended learning.

Learning Objectives

  • Gain an understanding of the core principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and how it can be embedded within your department or institution
  • Create your strategy for designing an inclusive curriculum and course content which meets the needs of all students
  • Learn how to adapt your teaching delivery to support inclusivity in the learning experience
  • Develop your approach to inclusive assessment and student expression
  • Evaluate how inclusive learning can be delivered to meet the demands of the virtual environment and blended learning in the Covid-19 era

International Network of Inclusive Practice virtual conference 2021 – invitation to submit a proposal

Inclusive teaching and learning in higher education: theory and practice
21st – 25th June 2021

Co-hosted with the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning and the Disability Resource Centre, University of Cambridge

As higher education strives to close the gap on student outcomes for groups of marginalised learners our conference aims to discuss how institutions can provide coherent approaches to increasing diversity in the classroom. On the face of it, university campuses appear to adhere to traditional delivery models which are aimed at a one size fits all idea of teaching and learning. However, such approaches often rely on individualised models of student support and expectations that adjustments to teaching are negotiated settlements between disabled students and academic staff. Approaches such as universal design for learning offer a way forward in which institutional barriers in learning contexts are removed from the provider side of the equation.

The International Network of Inclusive Practice invites you to submit a proposal to present at the conference. There are three session formats:

Workshops: 75 minutes – workshops should explore a research or practice-informed topic and are designed with high levels of interaction in mind.

Discussion papers: 30 minutes – presentation of project findings, examples of practice, theory into practice from within your institutional or broader context, including no more than 20 minutes presentation and at least 10 minutes of questions and discussion.

Reading group: 45 minutes – propose a paper/book/blog/report that you wish to discuss in a reading group forum. Proposers will provide an overview of the paper followed by facilitation of the group discussion relating to lessons learned from the reading, theoretical exploration, practical applications etc.

To submit a proposal please send us a completed abstract template by midnight on Friday 12th February 2021. The conference will be free of charge for up to 2 workshop presenters.

Please be aware that all sessions should adhere to inclusivity principles and will be delivered online. You should consider the implications of this when developing your proposal and when designing your session.

Please return your proposal to mike@inclusioninhe.com 

Session proposals might expand on ideas such as:

  • How do theoretical models such as universal design for learning and the social model of disability translate into classroom settings?
  • What are the challenges for approaches such as UDL? Can we assume that the need for individual adjustments is removed for example? Are external pressures such as the neo-liberalisation of higher education intractable problems when applying such models?
  • Practical examples of inclusive teaching and learning and how these can be applied to other institutional settings
  • Cross institutional approaches which utilise theoretical underpinnings to develop practice
  • Scholarship of teaching and learning: approaches to supporting disabled students in the classroom
  • What lessons can be learned from inclusive approaches to teaching and learning applied during the global pandemic?

e-Seminar on Inclusive Practice in Online/Remote Learning

The latest event organised by the International Network of Inclusive Practice will take place on Wednesday 4th November 2020, 2.30pm – 4.30pm. 

The Covid-19 crisis of 2020 created an unprecedented challenge for higher education providers as they moved entire faculty curricula online whilst attempting to maintain an equitable experience for students from across the globe. Some of the solutions to these challenges closely resembled approaches which had previously been suggested as removing barriers which exist for disabled students.

This online seminar asks if this punctuated equilibrium marks a turning point for an accelerated move towards inclusive approaches in HE or, has the sector’s response created more problems than it answered for marginalised groups of students?

Facilitated by Pete Quinn & Mike Wray and hosted using the Remo platform we will hear from speakers in 4 UK universities and welcome delegates to:

  • reflect on your practice, 
  • hear both teaching and learner experiences 
  • discuss and decide on inclusive ways forward

Please visit http://www.inip.org.uk/events/inclusive-practice-in-online-remote-learning/ for details of our presenters or book directly via Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/inclusive-practice-in-onlineremote-learning-tickets-124092701611

What is universal design for learning in higher education?

Universal design for learning is receiving increased attention in higher education as an approach that could solve some of the attainment issues which face diverse groups of learners.

This approach to teaching originates from architecture and according to Rose et al (2006) ‘universal design involves designing products, buildings, or environments so they can be used readily by the widest possible range of users.’ Applying this to higher education takes us to a definition along the lines of – universal design for learning in higher education involves designing lectures, modules, courses and higher education institutions so that they can be accessed readily by the widest possible range of students.

So what does this mean in practice? A good place to start are the guidelines which have been developed by CAST an organisation which has been at the forefront of the development of UDL.   These guidelines suggest three underpinning aspects of delivery which programme designers should consider from the outset in order to improve the inclusivity of their courses and modules.

Lecturers should consider how they:

Provide multiple means of representation – the what of learning;

Provide multiple means of engagement – the why of learning;

Provide multiple means of action and expression – the how of learning.

The best way I can think of simplifying this framework is to think in terms of an input/output model.

The input is the how the content (or the information) of the course is delivered. The students are the people in the middle, (who all come with their own different backgrounds, resources, strengths and weaknesses), the recipients of the information receiving this input, and the output is how the student is going to demonstrate and utilise the information. What do you want them to do with the knowledge they have acquired?

Rose et al (2006) in their seminal paper describe how they have applied the principles of UDL as they see them, to an undergraduate course. They updated this paper in 2015 in the book Universal design in higher education: Promising practices edited by Sheryl Burghstahler. I have used some of their examples to illustrate what the three aspects refer to in terms of delivery.


This aspect isn’t primarily about what the curriculum is going to contain but rather, how are you going to allow for different ways of accessing the curriculum? How are you going to present the information so that it can be accessed by a diverse range of learners as possible. Rose et al (2006) discuss a range of ways in which they do this. For example, they video each lecture and make it available on a website, they collected notes from students and posted these on the VLE so that other students could see different ways of understanding what was relayed (but also as an informal way to check for understanding). This also had the additional advantage of reducing the need for note takers to be supplied by central disability services. They emphasise the use of Powerpoint to provide structure rather than as a textual alternative to what is being said and they place an emphasis on the use of visual elements to act as supplements to the verbal content.   


For me this element is essentially about the student, but importantly how do we motivate them to engage with the information that is presented throughout the course. The student body is increasingly diverse and have a broad range of motivations and socio-cultural resources. It is imperative that we design learning opportunities that allow for this broad range of difference so that we get the best of them. Rose et al (2006) say that this element of UDL was met through the range of choice which was offered. Students were able to access information through a range of media, could access different types of discussion groups, had choice of what to read etc. Therefore, students were given opportunities to engage in the ways that they preferred and which they found motivating.


What do we want our students to do with the information we present and how do we want them to demonstrate to us that they have understood what was presented? More often than not this aspect of UDL is taken to mean assessment. Of course, assessment can be formative as well as summative and teachers can assess how well students are understanding content through course delivery: asking questions as they go along, encouraging discussion etc. Rose et al (2006) moved away from traditional forms of assessment by giving students a literature review project which required them to display their findings through a website (limited to 1500 words and displayed publicly for other students to see) followed by a lesson plan based on the literature review. In this way they say that the variety of skills required allows for the varied strengths of the students to be assessed.

Burghstahler, S. E. (2013). Universal design in higher education: Promising practices. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington.

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: reflections on principles and their application. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2), 135 – 151.

Departmental staff perceptions of centrally organised disability support services

What do academic staff think about in-class support for disabled students? How do staff in university faculties and department respond to suggestions for changes to practice which are proposed by staff in central services?

Most university disability personnel are based within a centrally located student support service and play a significant role in facilitating a barrier free education for disabled students. But how do staff in academic faculties and departments view this support and how do they respond to recommendations made from the centre? What do these staff think about support in the form of specialist staff who they encounter in the classroom often without any prior knowledge that this type of support was about to appear alongside a disabled student? I explore these issues in a new paper which has been accepted for publication by a peer -reviewed journal and which you can download in a pre-print version here.

As with most of the practice in this area of interest there is scant research which examines these issues. What research there is, points to somewhat fragile relationships between academic departments and central services. For instance, Kendall (2018) suggested that academic staff are ambivalent towards support provided centrally and that they have negative attitudes towards centrally produced support plans. Respondents in Kendall’s study also raised questions about specialist tuition. In another study, departmental staff felt that more could be done for disabled students and that they were left with too much responsibility for their support (Cameron & Nunkoosing, 2012).

We should, of course, be wary of evidence from two studies but, these insights from academic departments offer a window into what disconnects might arise, in loosely coupled organisations,  between the good intentions of central support and the staff in faculties who are intended to implement practice. Everyone, is working towards the same goal: students want to do the best they can without having to deal with unnecessary barriers; central services want to provide support which can help to remove these barriers; and academic staff want their students to do the best they can and try their upmost to facilitate learning.

One of the mechanisms for providing inclusive classrooms in HE is the use of non-medical helpers (NMH). In other parts of the education system NMHs are usually referred to as teaching assistants (TAs) or learning support assistants. You might be forgiven for thinking that any additional resources afforded to teachers would benefit learners but this is not necessarily the case with TAs. In some contexts, their impact can be detrimental and this can be particularly problematic for disabled learners. The research does show that TAs can reduce stress for teachers by providing additional resources and with the right training and time to liaise on targeted provision with teachers, they can have a positive effect on learning outcomes (*see below for further resources).

My research in HE demonstrates that similar issues can occur. Teaching staff were unclear on the purposes of in-class and out of class support which is provided by central services. Unfortunately, there was evidence to suggest that these support mechanisms did mitigate against inclusive practice since departmental staff defer to specialists in supporting disabled learners. Staff think along the lines of ‘this student is being supported by central services so I don’t need to do anything’. Paradoxically, when recommendations were made for changes to classroom practice tensions arose, this was despite the fact that teaching staff generally do not see themselves as experts in this area.

Solutions to this problem centre around better communication between central services and academic departments but isn’t this ever the case? I think more effective ways of solving such issues lie in embedding practice within academic departments. This could be done through employing disability coordinators linked to subject areas or giving responsibility to staff within the Faculty. Faculty staff also need to play a bigger role in developing inclusive solutions so that Learning Support Plans which contain recommendations for changes to teaching practice can be better aligned to the day-to-day reality of the lecture/seminar room.

*If you are interested in the effectiveness and the effects on classroom practice of teaching assistants in schools there are two useful international reviews available: one from the OECD and another by Sharma and Salend.

Additionally, the DISS project was a large scale study carried out by the Institute of Education in the UK, the findings of which, were disseminated through various outputs including this one at the EEF.

Beyond ‘Beyond the bare minimum’

A recent briefing ‘Moving beyond the bare minimum’ published by the Office for Students (OfS), asks whether universities and colleges in the UK are doing enough to support disabled students. The title of the briefing is perhaps somewhat unfortunate since, as the author points out, considerable progress has already been made in the last 20+ years in terms of improving access and one might be forgiven for thinking that the briefing could utilise a more accurate baseline with which to stretch the sector than the ‘bare minimum’. Here are a set of alternative observations based on the recommendations and arguments within the briefing, which are aimed at moving us ‘beyond the quite significant efforts’ that most institutions have already made:

  • Most HEP corporate strategies envisage inclusive institutions, with senior management committed to inclusive practice and culture. However, the briefing does not give a clear vision for where the sector should be at this point in time (25 years on since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was implemented and nearly 20 years since HE in the UK was fully incorporated into that legislation). One way of evaluating this is to survey HEPs against the base level-document which was commissioned 20 years ago (failing that, use one of the previous Quality Assurance Agency’s code of practice). Instead of analysing access statements into which disability offices and disabled students often have very little input, the OfS should make it a requirement that, in the first instance, HEPs ensure they have ‘base-level’ suggestions in place.
  • The briefing argues for more institution-wide schemes such as widespread use of recording of large lectures. Many larger and more established HEPs have made significant strides in this direction (albeit not with disability equality primarily in mind). However, projects such as this often require a significant injection of funding. The OfS could provide targeted funding for projects, outlining a range of areas which could be funded (so that HEPs who are ahead of the curve on this adjustment to practice don’t miss out). This could be considered when the OfS reviews the use of the £40M funding (Annex A at the bottom of this webpage) which they allocate to HEPs which is supposed to be aimed at disability specific provision. What usually happens is that the £40M allocated funding gets amalgamated into existing budgets (often the existing spending is far higher than the OfS allocation) and there is little incentive or ability to commit large additional pots of funding.
  • Organisations such as the OfS need to move beyond the bare minimum in terms of social model thinking.  Recent policy documents, including this OfS briefing, use the rhetoric of the social model of disability (particularly since changes were made to DSAs funding) but there has been very little movement beyond the bare minimum in terms of governance and policy instruments. We see this reflected in the briefing in the statistics which are presented, which are all based on medical impairment categories. I’m not convinced that a step forward is to ask HESA to split the ‘multiple disabilities’ (sic) category into its constituent parts. Anyone who has worked in disability services will tell you of the number of times when they’ve been asked by staff to give them a further breakdown of students’ impairments beyond the top line category.  For example, when I first worked in HE academic staff wanted to know what each medical condition was and how it affected the individual’s learning – but why does a more in depth medical description of ‘von Willebrand disease’ for example, assist in delivering inclusive teaching and learning? More recently people have asked for breakdowns of specific learning difficulties category, and very recently, breakdowns of mental health difficulties disclosures. Again, the question is how does this assist in delivering inclusive teaching and learning? If we really want to move forward with understanding what HEPs are doing in terms of breaking down barriers we need to start gathering evidence on what adjustments are being made. We should be asking more social model related questions of providers such as how many people get extra time in examinations in each HEP?  What percentage of lectures are recorded and put online? How much of the estates budget has been utilised to make buildings accessible in each HEP? The OfS should ask HEPs to start counting adjustments that they make to improve access (for example the numbers of examination alterations such as extra time) alongside the requirements to count student impairments. Best practice – the Open University support statistics on summer school adjustments.
  • Non-continuation rates should be explored in more depth – without talking to people who have dropped out it is difficult to extrapolate what the reasons for the differential rates are. There will, no doubt, be a complex interplay between barriers in the environment and individual differences in the circumstances of the student. As the briefing points out some groups of disabled students do better than others. We therefore need to understand better why this is the case by (as the briefing suggests) exploring the experience of individual students.  On a related point the briefing suggests that non-disclosure rates are an issue (but why is this an issue if the figures are at record levels and at record ratios?) We need to explore the story behind the data such as who’s not disclosing and why? Are people disclosing who aren’t disabled under the Equalities Act (DSA applications would suggest that this is the case since many get rejected because of a lack of medical evidence). We need to understand better and ensure that statistics are robust, before basing policy on them.
  • Self-disclosure, as any HE disability office worker will tell you, grows rapidly as the academic year progresses, not least because the HE sector is running to a different beat to the rest of the education sector. Therefore, the OfS should pressure the government to remove the unnecessary barrier of replacing Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) at HE level. In the briefing an example of good practice is given of a college which helps disabled learners with transition. This transition planning would be greatly assisted if the funding systems weren’t so different between the different levels of the education system and if EHCPs weren’t replaced by assessments of need. The briefing mentions that there is cross political party agreement on this. In an accompanying document  Piers Wilkinson points out disabled students face added burdens of arranging a number of additional matters, such as in-class support, when they get into higher education. This wouldn’t be as much of a burden if disabled students kept their EHCPs and if they didn’t have to negotiate a whole new and highly complex funding system when they enter HE.
  • The OfS should think twice before offering any more policy and pressure HEPs to implement existing policies– in my study of policy implementation in HE there were over 300 policies which staff were expected to follow (a policy epidemic as Levin pointed out in 1998).  We have had and continue to have, fit for purpose policy in this area; we had the QAA code of practice for 20 years; we’ve has the base level document around for nearly 30 years; and we’ve had the Equalities Act for nearly 25 years. Perhaps we can move beyond the bare minimum of much of the policy rhetoric and implement the policies which are already in existence?

9 things to find out about when you are applying to university in the UK – if you have additional support needs

Find out if you like the place

What every student will do (and learners with support needs are no different) is to research general features of the college they are interested in. For example, you might want to know how good the course is. What are the employment prospects? You might be interested in how good the sports provision is. Are there many gigs/bars/club nights/social societies? Is there a non-alcohol culture? Is it in a major city or is it on a quieter out of town rural campus? On top of all these priorities if you have additional support needs you should consider finding out a few more things which I have suggested here:

Do they have a disability/learning support team and how many staff do they have?

Most universities in the UK will have a separate team usually based within their Student Services area who deal specifically with disabled students/SEN learners and might be called the disability team. These teams are sometimes in the library especially if there is a ‘one stop shop’ type model within the institution – (I know this seems odd: “Go to the library to get your disability sorted”? But this is more to do with organisational and pragmatic issues in the background and (usually) nothing to do with the ethos of the place). This team often works with students with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, students with autistic spectrum disorders and students with mental health difficulties. Usually there will also be separate provision for mental health difficulties in the form of counselling services and increasingly specialist staff who may have a health or social services background. Sometimes the dyslexia team will be separately organised and located in a different area as well (maybe within the study skills team). There might also be members of staff in the disability team who specialises in your impairment e.g. visual impairment or hearing impairment. Ask if the team is organised like this.

Find out what the accommodations to assessment/exams provisions are

The vast majority of HEPs in the UK will have specific provisions if not a separate policy which covers the support of disabled students/SEN learners in assessments. The most common adjustment is probably in the area of providing extra time in examinations and usually 25% additional time is common practice (but more time is allowed in some circumstances). Other examples of support which might be provided are separate rooms, a scribe (amanuensis), use of a PC, enlarged examination papers. Less frequently provided are adjustments to assessments (term papers, projects, dissertations etc). This is a more controversial area as many institutions consider changes to assessment deadlines to be altering academic standards. However, some institutions do allow additional time for disabled students/SEN learners. You may also be able to negotiate alternative assessments – for example submitting a multimedia piece in place of a written piece of work – although these are less frequently available.

Check if you are eligible for funding and if you are, make sure you have applied for it

Many UK resident students who have additional support requirements will be eligible for a non-means tested grant which is not repayable (this is called Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) in England, Scotland and Wales – I know! We have lobbied successive governments to change the name but they haven’t). If you have had support during school you may not have had to personally apply for any funding but in higher education you do. Also, you may not think you can get any funding but these allowances are used to support a wide range of support needs – dyslexia, ASD, mental health, visual impairment, hearing impairment etc. The monies pay for support which is related to educational provision (i.e. support you require in the lessons/lectures/seminars and when you are studying and for additional human support for accessing the curriculum – it is not for adaptations to accommodation or to pay for physical support outside of the classroom).

Contact your student finance department (Student Finance England ; SAAS ; Student Finance Wales ; Northern Ireland ; Republic of Ireland ) and follow the instructions for application. But be aware that the process can take on average 10 weeks, so apply as soon as you get an offer of a place.

If you are not a UK resident student you will need to try to obtain funding to pay for support. Although UK HEPs are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled students, many of them have limited funding to pay for additional support. Also, it is difficult to know to what extent this legal duty applies to students from outside the UK.

Make sure you have a diagnosis or medical/educational evidence of your condition/disability/learning need.

In UK HE, most HEPs take their direction from that which is outlined in UK law i.e. that the condition is long term, significant and affect day to day activity. You will normally need to provide documentary evidence that this is the case and this will usually need to be a qualified medical practitioner such as a GP or for a SpLD such as dyslexia, an educational psychologist. A SENCO report will usually not be enough nor will a recommendation to an examination board. If you are an international student a translated document will usually be required from a similar organisation or practitioner.

Check out what provision is available in the library

I’m pleased to say that libraries in universities in the UK have a long tradition of offering additional support services in liaison with support provided from within disability services. For instance, they often allow additional time for loaning physical resources, provide additional support such as help with finding books, sometimes additional storage and may even make additional rooms available for individual disabled students to study in. If the library houses suites of desktop PCs there may be a dedicated area for specific computers with specialist software or hardware for inclusive access or they may even provide laptops to borrow with specialist software. Related to this also:

Check out the IT provision at the university

Many IT services are embedded within or work closely with the library in a university so provision such as loan of IT equipment is integrated. Increasingly IT support in universities is providing assistive technology for a range of learners so it is worthwhile checking out what is available to all students on the university network (e.g. Global Autocorrect , Read and Write). Also, it is worth finding out whether more specialist apps (if you use them) are compatible with the university network. If you are applying to a course which makes use of software packages such as SPSS (statistical package often used in psychology or other social science courses) or AutoCAD (design software) you need to figure out how you are going to access this software if you have access needs.

Accommodation/halls of residence

Find out what adaptations are available in the university’s halls of residence. Most universities offer adapted rooms which are designed specifically to be accessible, such as rooms with accessible showers or rooms with fire alarms (vibrating pillow devices etc) that are linked to the main alarm system (for hearing impairment). They will also have a range of equipment which can be provided such as ergonomic study chairs, adjustable desks. If you require more extensive adaptations you should contact the university as soon as possible as they will have to make arrangements to carry out building works. Some universities are now offering areas within their halls of residence which are for students who prefer a quiet space, they may offer alcohol free halls or similar targeted provision. You should find out if accommodation is offered through private companies because you might need to make separate enquiries to these providers. The university’s accommodation team should be able to give you more information about private accommodation.

Find out how existing students at the university have been supported

One of the best ways to find out about provision is to speak to someone who has been there and done it. If you know someone who has already studied at the university, they will be able to tell you what support is like.

If you can’t find anyone who has studied there then you may be able to find examples on the university’s website or in their prospectus. Of course, the university is not going to advertise bad aspects of their support but the fact that they have provided examples of additional support tells you something about whether they see these issues as important. There may be examples of graduates from your course who are disabled students who have completed studies successfully. At the open day it might be useful to ask questions about how previous students have been supported. You might be able to speak to an admissions tutor beforehand about support available on your course. Look at discussion groups on social media (or websites such as the Student Room) to find out whether the support has been of a high quality. Speak to students’ union representatives: there might be an equalities officer or a disability officer who you can contact in advance of applying. There might be disability societies such as Aspies Soc etc.



Panic attacks

I’m racing past the crowds. Darting in and out. Side to side. Out of my way. I need to get past. I need to breath. I’m going. To. Feint. I manage to get past. I’m now running up the road. Trying to concentrate on the task in hand which is to get to a safe place. Or a place where I can relax. When the crowds clear it actually gets worse. I can’t stop concentrating on feeling feint and dizzy because my mind is no longer focussed on getting through the crowds. I start to panic so I start to run. If I don’t concentrate on running my mind will more than likely go back to the fact that I’m about to feint or stop breathing. So I carry on running. Eventually I find the back street where I can walk without seeing anyone and where my breathing can get back to normal. Once I’ve relaxed and broken back out onto the less busy pavements, I manage to calm down and I make it to work.

If you’ve experienced one, you’ll know that I’m referring to having a panic attack. The feelings I describe above were a regular occurrence in my life for about 20 or more years. Fortunately, I don’t generally experience them anymore but occasionally, when I’m feeling particularly tired or in a particularly difficult setting, maybe standing at a concert or stuck in the middle of a row in a lecture theatre, the feelings creep back around the edges.

I can’t remember exactly when I experienced my first panic attack but I do know that I feinted a couple of times when I was about 14. One time, I caught my toe on the kitchen door shortly after I had woken up and gone downstairs for breakfast. As I sat at the dining room table I felt the nausea creeping up on me and then the familiar feeling of stars forming around the outside of my vision and the loss of sound… but the sounds re-appear as if in a dream, until I regained consciousness and found myself lying on the floor at the front door of our house with the local farmer (who was delivering our milk and was a family friend) above me and my brother and mum alongside. I’d pulled the table cloth completely off the table and sent everything flying in dramatic fashion.

It happened again in secondary (high) school during a particularly hot summer’s day in a stifling design technology classroom. The teacher had come to help me and as I stood up to let him sit in my seat, I felt the rush of blood away from my head and before I knew it, I was on the floor again unconscious. I think I linked these feelings of light headedness with feinting so that when ever I was then in a confined space and felt that way, maybe because I suffered from insomnia around that time, I started to panic and had to resist the urge to run for the exit. I do remember experiencing one during my GCSE exams and had to ask for a toilet break. And then they plagued me for the next two or three decades.

Until I went to university (probably after experiencing them for about three years) I hadn’t known what they were or told anyone I was having them. It just so happened that I was studying psychology for my undergraduate degree programme and came across a small section on them in an ‘abnormal’ psychology book which was one of our recommended textbooks. Finally being able to put a name to what they were, I disclosed that I was having problems to my personal tutor who sent me to the counselling service. The counsellor explained that he could help me but that we would have to meet a few times and explore ‘issues which I might not be terribly comfortable with’. Needless to say, I wasn’t willing to explore ‘issues which I wasn’t terrible comfortable with’ so I didn’t attend. I did go to the GP who gave me a clean bill of health but offered no further guidance or referrals.

Unfortunately, they got worse before they got better and I was unable to attend many of my lectures throughout the second year of my degree course. Fortunately, I had formed a very close friendship with someone else on the course who I shared a house with. He was able to attend lectures and bring back the notes for me. This was before there was any funding available for disability services in the UK and well before any campaigns to raise awareness for mental health conditions.