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You do not have to tell anyone about your IBD if you do not wish to. However, letting your university or college know about your condition will mean you are more likely to receive the help and support that is available.
Many universities and colleges encourage students who feel they may need extra support because of a disability to disclose this at an early stage - for example on their application form.
Alternatively, you may prefer to get in contact with Student Disability Services as soon as your place is confirmed. This should make it easier for them to arrange support ready for the start of term. But there is no obligation to disclose your condition if you do not wish to. If you have any concerns about disclosing your IBD or requesting support, contact the Student Disability Services at your university or college for an informal chat. You may not have to wait until you start your course to speak to a Disability Adviser, as many Student Disability Services can be reached by email, telephone or Skype. Anything you say to a Student Disability Adviser will be kept in confidence and will not be passed on without your permission.
If you have a Study Needs Agreement or something similar, this will cover who you have agreed can be given information about your needs, including academic staff. However, even if you have agreed that details of your condition should be passed on, you may still find it helpful to talk to your head of department or your personal tutor (if you have one) about your IBD and the impact this could have on your studies. Many students with IBD recommend doing this as soon as possible.
You may feel embarrassed about talking about your IBD, but once you have established an understanding you will probably feel less uncomfortable about asking for support when needed. Also, the more open you can be, the more help you are likely to be able to access. If staff are aware of your condition, they may be able to be more flexible around your studies.
Students with IBD have found the following points useful to raise:
One of your main concerns may be about getting work in on time, especially when you are having a flare-up or if you have to go into hospital. Some universities and colleges will include requesting coursework extensions in a Study Needs Agreement, if you have one. Others may ask that you submit work when you can, and if it is late, you can then apply for mitigating or extenuating circumstances. You may need to submit a doctor’s note as evidence for this. If your request is successful, the penalty for late submission may be waived or you may be given the opportunity to do the coursework again. Rules are different from one university or college to another, and it is worth checking in advance what the policy is. If you do find yourself having to negotiate a coursework extension, try to be realistic about how much time you need to recover and how much work you can do when you’re still not feeling completely well.
Meeting new people usually means wondering if and when to tell them about your IBD - and everyone has their own way of dealing with this. Some students with IBD find it easier not to mention it at first until they get to know people better. Others feel they want to be open from the beginning and if people can’t deal with this, then they aren’t likely to become good friends anyway.
If you do feel unwell during the first few weeks but don’t want to go into details, you could just say you have a ‘tummy bug’. Or just limit your explanation to the fact that you have a gut condition that means you have to rush to the loo frequently. You can then give more details if and when you are ready.
Whichever approach you take, as you make friends you will get to know who is most likely to be understanding and who you can trust to talk to about your IBD. Many students have found that it does help to tell at least a few friends, and they are able to build up the same support in their new environment as they had around them at home. Having a supportive network of people who understand your condition and can offer support when it is really needed can make all the difference. For example, you may wish to give a close friend or flat mate a contact number of a family member in case you are unwell, or tell them where you keep your treatment card if you have one.
As someone with IBD, you may need to be careful about what you eat and drink. This might make you feel different from other students, particularly if you avoid alcohol during freshers’ week when there tends to be a lot of activities around going to bars. But remember that many people don’t drink alcohol, for a variety of reasons, and this is usually respected. You could think ahead about how you would respond to any comments on your not drinking alcohol. If you are sharing accommodation you may choose to cook your own food. Having good nutrition is particularly important with IBD to help the body strengthen its resistance to illness.
Most people want to throw themselves fully into university or college life, and enjoy the new experiences on offer, but it may help to recognize your limits. Pushing your body too far might make you feel unwell, so that you end up missing out on more activities than if you had paced yourself from the beginning. In such a new and exciting environment, it can be difficult to keep the same routine, which is likely to be very different from when at home. You may, for example, find it harder to remember to take your medication on time without parents around to help you remember. You might find it useful to plan ahead and set yourself reminders, particularly in the early days, when you are you getting used to new surroundings. There are many medicine reminder apps for mobile phones which could help with this. Or, you might want to put a note on the back of the front door as a prompt when you are going out.
When you have good days, try to do as much as you reasonably can in terms of being sociable and doing your work, as you don’t know when a bad day will come along, which could restrict what you are able to do. Just try to take each day as it comes and see how you feel.
A common concern, although people don’t like to talk about it, is the potential impact of IBD on sex and relationships. See our section IBD and sexual relationships for further information.