The Open University (OU) has more awareness than many higher education institutions of what they term 'mental distress' and consequently they have particularly well-developed recommendations to tutors. They recognise that residential summer schools create anxieties for many students and that, for some, being out of their home environment may trigger adverse reactions.
In the OU setting the tutor is never the only person with knowledge of the student's difficulties:
"As the tutor, you may be the first to be aware when a student experiences difficulties. There is no need for you to feel isolated when faced with challenging issues or needs. Your first line of contact will be the student's counsellor, who will know the student better than you do. If further advice or information is needed, either of you can contact the appropriate Senior Counsellor..." (Open University, 1994, p.5).
Alternatively, the tutor may receive information from their Regional Centre that one of their new students has a mental health difficulty. They will also be informed about the educational implications and about any strategies that previous tutors have found effective in enabling the student to benefit more fully from the learning situation. The tutor is then advised about how to make effective initial contact with the student:
"During the initial phase of the conversation you will introduce yourself, say a little about yourself, ask the student a little about how he or she is feeling about the course and chat for a while about the preparatory material. It will be necessary at some time to begin to refer directly to the information you have had about the student from the Regional Centre. It will be helpful to the student to know that you are aware of his/her difficulties... it is important to start assessing together the extent of the student's educational needs." (Open University, 1994, p.7).
What similar mechanisms and guidelines does your institution have in place?
Page updated 14 December 2001
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 117 0