The incidence of problems arising during fieldwork as a direct result of student mental illness is rare. If staff are well prepared and have briefed their students thoroughly, those who have been managing their other academic work are likely also to manage the fieldwork tasks and enjoy the experience. Staff who are aware of students’ difficulties can play an important role in helping the students to cope with any particularly stressful aspects of the field experience, although students who wish their condition to remain hidden from their peers may be concerned to ensure that they are not given any special dispensations that will draw attention to themselves; their wishes should be respected if at all possible (see the section on Confidentiality).
When severe problems do occur the most likely consequence is that the student concerned will choose, or be encouraged, to leave early. When a student’s difficulties are known about in advance, contingency arrangements can be made. For example, a student may be allowed to bring their own car, making it possible for them to leave early, but also reducing their anxiety that they may be ‘trapped’ on the course.
Sometimes communal living arrangements may bring to light behaviours that are not specially problematic for the student concerned, but may be disturbing or upsetting for fellow students. Tolerance of minor eccentricities and ‘odd’ behaviours should be encouraged, but it is important, and quite appropriate, to make it clear to students that some behaviours are unacceptable, whatever their cause.
Eating disorders, including bulimia, self-harm and some other extreme behaviours, which may have been unnoticed by staff or fellow students in the past, may become apparent on a field course. In the case of eating disorders it is unlikely that urgent action is required, although the student should be encouraged to seek help when they return from the field. Self-harm is rarely immediately life-threatening but, if noticed by others, may cause considerable distress to staff or fellow students. It is not acceptable for a student to cut or otherwise harm themselves in the presence of other students, and if they persist in doing so they may have to be asked to leave. Any behaviour that interferes with the enjoyment or completion of the course by others or puts the safety of themselves or other students at risk cannot be tolerated, even if the student causing the problem is ill and not fully aware of the effects of their behaviour.
See also Supporting the Student Group and Common Illnesses and Symptoms.
Page updated 14 December 2001
GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock
© Geography Discipline Network/authors, 2001
ISBN: 1 86174 117 0