I recently attended a very boring and yet equally as interesting meeting for teachers involved in adult education. It was a compulsory thing for my friend, and I went along as her chauffer. There was much emphasis on completing paper work and carrying out risk assessments – if you’ve worked in education (or any public sector) you’ll know what I’m talking about. Before you ask, the buffet was naff.
There was a panel of various key figures who took it in turns to give a little introduction of their roles in the education service, followed by the usual “if you have any questions come and see me later” and “my number is in this leaflet” whilst waving bits of paper in the air. And then a lady stood up and said: “My name is Josephine Bloggs and my role is to make sure that adult education is accessible to people with physical disabilities or mental health problems”. That’s when the evening became interesting. She said that teachers obviously know about their own subject, but need to be taught how to cater for the needs of such ones.
Raising awareness in this way is something I would quite like to do – explaining what mental illness is and isn’t, a few do’s and don’ts, and how best to be supportive, that kind of thing – after all, they’re not training to become mental health nurses, so a lesson in biology is probably not required! I enquired about it later in the evening and although I was told that the CPT would be handling it, the lady took my number to pass on to another lady who would be directly involved in this. During our discussion there were a few points that sounded a little odd to me, and when/if the lady calls me I shall no doubt be asking for some clarification.
Firstly, I got the impression that there were specific courses for people with mental health problems, such as painting, dancing, yoga, “subjects that are therapeutic” as the lady put it. Are they suggesting that people with mental health problems can only benefit from “therapeutic” subjects and not academic ones? Do they assume that people with mental illness do not have the mental capacity to learn something more challenging?
Secondly, why are people with mental health problems being segregated by being given their own courses? Aren’t they just ordinary people like you and I?
Thirdly, I was told that one way I could help was by being a “buddy” for a mentally ill student. Please tell me that this is not a paid role. Do they think they need to enrol people to be friends with those with mental illness? How is the person expected to gain confidence in their own social skills if “buddies” are provided? How would you feel if you were assigned a “buddy”? Wouldn't you feel like they were saying “You're so awful no one will like you so we've asked someone to be your friend”?
These courses are designed for people with “mild to moderate” mental health problems. I have read that Schizophrenia is the most severe form of mental illness. So if this is how they view “mild to moderate” sufferers of mental illness, they must think Mr Man is a complete cabbage! So let me just clarify a few things about Mr Man…
- His table tennis skills are improving all the time, which is one of the fastest thinking sports there is. He’d now like to train to become a coach.
- He is very proficient in web design and computer programming, being able to program in at least 10 different programming and scripting languages, flash animations, and other things that I can’t even explain to you because I don’t understand it – all self taught.
- He has an amazing comprehension of various forms of mathematics which I have never even heard of – again all self taught. He even created his own mathematical formula to work out the day of the week of any given date in history or in the future - which he can calculate in his head.
- He has composed hundreds of pieces of music of many different styles.
- Believe it or not he’s even made some new friends all by himself.
My teacher friend pointed out to me that although there are specific courses for people with mental health problems, anyone can enrol on any course. This is true, but only the teachers who are teaching the “therapeutic” courses specifically for the mentally ill are being trained to cater for the needs of those with mental illness - the other tutors merely received an information leaflet that was so general that it could apply to almost anyone whether they suffered from a mental illness or not. Who’s to say what is therapeutic? Yes, I would love to paint and dance and let the wind blow through my hair, but these things are not relaxing or therapeutic to Mr Man. (For those things, please see the list above)
I realise that not every person who suffers from a mental illness is like Mr Man, but I just feel the whole scheme is patronising at the very least. It would be much better for all teachers to be better educated about mental health issues as part of a national or even global campaign to reduce ignorance and stigma, and to start treating those with mental illness as ordinary people living with extraordinary illnesses, rather than continuing prejudice by treating them as something subhuman under the guise of being politically correct.
Still, it ticks all the right boxes so that they can receive their government funding.
Thank you to Mr Ian for providing this link for Mental Health First Aid.