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

Case Studies and Discussion Scenarios

Case study 8


In 25 years experience of leading field classes involving many hundred of students, this is first case of mental illness with which I have had to deal.


Residential foreign fieldtrip, two weeks.

Mental health difficulty

The problem we had 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.

Known by tutor at the time?

Although the student concerned had suffered mental health problems in the past, this was unknown to the field course leaders and the student had signed a declaration stating that they were in good health and had no existing medical conditions.

Brief outline of responses made at the time

The university authorities and the student's parents were informed, but the student refused to seek medical attention, and refused to agree to return home, even when offered a chaperon at no additional cost. Having faxed to the university an agreed statement about what the student had been offered and refused, we booked additional accommodation for the student, placing friends with them on a rota basis. The university paid for this. We also made sure that the field trip leaders saw the student on a regular basis. On return the student did agree to seek medical attention and the situation could then be taken into account at the meeting of the Board of Examiners, as could any possible adverse impact on the student group. The episode had a satisfactory outcome and the student graduated in the normal way.

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?

Two lessons were leant: 1) To specifically mention mental illness on the insurance and field course documentation. 2) To have a higher staffing ratio on foreign field classes. Both the above have been implemented.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock