concern over mental health issues



I could do with some advice. This is a difficult topic, but I recently disclosed to my PhD supervisors that I had tried to commit suicide four months ago as a consequence of ongoing PhD stress. The response has been harrowing: I had to attend a meeting with my faculty and consent to a psychological assessment by student welfare services. I have to have a follow-up meeting, and my supervisors are considering whether or not I can continue to a full PhD, or whether I will have to submit an MPhil.

My primary supervisor has already informed me that he feels unable to continue providing me with supervision. I am in my writing up year, and whilst my supervisors have no official obligation to provide me with continued supervision anyway, I was wondering if I have any legal rights to remain on my PhD or if there is any way they can force me to submit for a lower award. I am not being asked to leave, but I don't want to submit for a lower award, even if it means staying on a PhD against my faculty's wishes and writing my thesis without any help. If my supervisors advise me to submit an MPhil, is there any way I can refuse?

I was also told that I may be required to disclose details of medications and / or mental health treatments, and to permit the University access to my medical records. Is there is any legal requirement for me to disclose this? Whilst I have nothing to hide, I am unwilling to disclose any further information to my faculty.

Any advice with regards to my rights or legal position would be greatly appreciated.

Edited to add that my supervisors are concerned for my wellbeing and I fully understand their position. I only want to find out what rights I have in this, if any.


Sounds like a difficult situation...

I don't think they can prevent you from submitting a PhD but they can make it very difficult for you to get one, especially as someone from your university will be in your viva. I don't think they can dismiss you from your PhD due to the employment laws in place pertaining to disability such as the Equality Act 2010 and they have to make 'reasonable adjustments' to help you... but then again, as PhD students, we are not technically employees so maybe this doesn't cover us.

You're not legally required to give them your medical information - they can only request you provide it but they can't force you. Just tell them you don't want to give them access to your medical records as this is your personal information. Your GP won't disclose anything unless they have your permission.

Have you explained to your supervisors that you want to continue with your PhD despite your condition and this is your choice?



If you haven't explored this already, could you talk to an advisor in the student union where you are? They have the advantage of knowing a university's systems & precedents but being independent. I'm thinking that it might be helpful to have someone like that present with you at this follow-up meeting to make sure everything is done properly. I'm very hesitant to offer any specific advice on your rights, as I think the regulations / policies are going to be quite variable from place to place, and maybe dependent on whether they have a policy on students being 'fit to study' or not.
While I agree it seems intrusive, if you and your GP feel your mental health is now being well-managed, perhaps submitting a letter from your GP saying that might be better than giving them permission to view your medical records. I think it's getting someone qualified to say things are under control that's crucial. I imagine the university and your supervisors are worried about how well at the moment, you will be able to deal with the inevitable criticism and need to rewrite that comes with the last stage of the PhD.
Alternatively, could you consider taking a leave of absence to recover? That might be worth suggesting if they seem obdurate about the MPhil.


The Equality Act 2010 does cover education providers. Here is a link to the relevant information. It is a long document but you can see in the index which bits are relevant. I hope this helps.