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

Case Studies and Discussion Scenarios

Case study 6

Comment

I have had experience of three students with mental health difficulties. Two have had no specific problems with fieldwork, including the mapping described below. Students undertake independent mapping in a foreign country, but prior to this all students undertake UK mapping with the field partner they would be using abroad. The partner system is for safety purposes, i.e. mapping within hailing distance of the other person. All the work components are individual, not joint. For one student problems materialised in the UK as described below.

Context

Independent field mapping, but working in pairs for safety. Residential in self-catering units.

Mental health difficulty

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.

Known by tutor at the time?

No specific condition known, treated as confidential information.

Brief outline of responses made at the time

In discussion, the student with the unpredictable behaviour said that they couldn't work with the original partner, but gave no reason. This was despite the fact that the work itself was individual, not joint, and so the only requirement was to be within calling distance. A rearrangement of partners was made to solve the problem for the remaining few days. At this point the original partner came to discuss the situation with the tutors. He expressed anxiety about the forthcoming summer work and said that he did not want to work with the student concerned. Their unpredictability on whether, when, and where to work would impact on his own degree, since solo work was prohibited and he would be subject to their whims and partly responsible for their safety. In the end staff decided that the foreign fieldwork would not be appropriate for the student with difficulties, because of safety considerations.

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?

The student in question showed a number of behaviour traits, from bright and alert to moody and tearful. Often they seemed unable to prioritise, putting a massive amount of effort into a relatively unimportant aspect of a topic and hence falling behind in routine submissions and then becoming stressed. On led field courses it was possible for staff to anticipate/correct the situation, but in independent mapping (which for us means 'pair' mapping), staff are absent and equal consideration must be given to the prospective partner's degree, hence the decision above.

Page updated 14 December 2001

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