Providing Learning Support for Students with Mental Health Difficulties Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Case Studies and Discussion Scenarios

The case studies provided here are accounts gathered from colleagues in the UK describing their experience of situations in which a student's mental health affected fieldwork. They provide the opportunity to learn from other's experience — they are not presented as models of 'good practice' but as a stimulus for reflection. Elsewhere on this site you should be able to find tools or suggestions which might enable a similar situation to be managed differently in the future, or you may simply wish to broaden your own experience vicariously by dipping into these.

Following the Case studies there are four scenarios for discussion at workshop sessions, with prompt questions. Again, there are no answers given here — but possible answers might be drawn from elsewhere on this site.

This section is written from the lecturer's viewpoint. You will find accounts by students with mental health difficulties in the 'Named Problems' section of 'Further Information' which draws on material on the Internet.

Case Study Context Mental Health Difficulty
Case study 1 Residential foreign fieldwork, in isolated rural setting, major emphasis on group work. Clinical depression; under medical treatment at the time.
Case study 2 Residential, in youth hostel in UK, conditions quite good, shared rooms. Student asked to be taken to the doctor with a septic burn with a plausible explanation. (On reflection this may have been self-harm.) On return from the surgery the student got very drunk. In the end drunkenness and suicide attempts became frequent and it was clear that this was part of a more serious mental health problem, which finally (after much involvement of friends, tutors and counsellors after the fieldwork incident) led to hospital admission.
Case study 3 One week residential fieldcourse based in university accommodation in the UK. Student found it difficult to relate to other students, despite encouragement from staff — was quiet and withdrawn.
Case study 4 Residential and overseas (but not remote in culture from the UK), one week. Almost incessant weeping, and lots of talk about low self-esteem, inability to cope, fear, and generally depressive. No explicit mention of suicidal feelings, but the depression was clearly becoming more extreme over the 48 hours which the student spent on the trip.
Case study 5 Residential, Youth Hostel, UK. Head injuries from an accident prior to the field course. The mental effect, apart from lack of co-ordination, was to become somewhat 'fearless' and we had to watch carefully as the student had little perception of personal danger. Illustrated by rather irrational behaviour on water — had to be supported by fellow students.
Case study 6 Independent field mapping, but working in pairs for safety. Residential in self-catering units. The student would argue with their partner, or fall silent, or walk off and work on their own (against regulations), or return to the accommodation, leaving their partner to find another pair to work with. Their actions were unpredictable.
Case study 7 Residential trip, hotel accommodation, UK. The student did not cope well with staying in a hotel which was obviously not their home territory. They fluctuated between between being (1) self-pitying, (2) boisterous and happy, (3) aggressive. Eventually they attempted to push several students down a very steep slope.
Case study 8 Residential foreign fieldtrip, two weeks. The problem arose when a group of students told staff that one of their colleagues was behaving strangely and this was confirmed when we spoke to the student. The student was speaking in non-sequiturs, acted in a most eccentric manner and was clearly very disturbed.

Discussion scenario 1.

Discussion scenario 2.

Discussion scenario 3.

Discussion scenario 4.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock