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

Case Studies and Discussion Scenarios

Case study 1

Context

Residential foreign fieldwork, in isolated rural setting, major emphasis on group work.

Mental health difficulty

Clinical depression; under medical treatment at the time.

Known by tutor at the time?

No.

Brief outline of responses made at the time

Some slightly antisocial behaviour noted at the time, the student having a limited ability to mix with group as a whole especially in the evenings. This was not a problem for the student group, but a source of concern for the staff. Field teaching was hard work because the student was not fully engaged with team working; generally they were difficult, self centred and at times unco-operative; staff worked hard with the situation, and because of the very high quality of the group as a whole, the programme was very successful. The big surprise came at the end of the course when the student produced an irrational tirade on the feedback form. The comments (more than a page) clearly gave away the students identity, and shocked staff who had no knowledge of the background. The comments were completely at odds with those of every other student on the course (27). This was when it was apparent that something was amiss...

On reflection, could the situation have been managed differently, and how could fieldwork planning, or communication with the student(s) or professionals before (or during) the events assisted?

In this case the student had great opportunities and a quality experience, the negative aspects were loaded on staff; prior knowledge would have prepared staff. We were lucky in so much as the weather was good and the additional stress on the student was limited. If weather had been bad, or the change of circumstances such that the balance of medication was upset, things could have got serious, not only for the individual but the group as a whole. Clearly there is a serious issue balancing medical confidentiality against the practical issues of running fieldcourses, and the balance between the individual privacy/group safety/emotional pressures on staff.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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