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Welcome to college
When we are involved in care planning for someone with mental health problems, we may look at encouraging a service user to enrol for a college course, perhaps as means of working with the strengths and interests that the person has, helping achieve potential, or maybe as a route back into employment. This sounds like a good idea but there can often be some barriers to this and I want to look in this blog about some ways of overcoming these.
Barriers to learning
- If you look through a brochure advertising courses at your local college you may find these involve commitment over a number of weeks that may prove difficult for someone with mental health problems. The rigours of attending at a fixed time and sticking with the course may be a problem for some. The effects of mental health problems may mean that some days people will not feel well enough to attend college.
- Being exposed to other students who the person doesn’t know may be daunting. The person may well have had previous bad experiences of education that has influenced their thinking about college.
- The college themselves may have concerns about how well the person will cope the class situation. Is there a course that appeals to the person’s interest? There has been much more emphasis recently on college courses that are linked to employment opportunities, rather than subjects that people are just keen on, that might build on someone’s previous hobbies and interests.
Removing the hurdles
So what can be done to try and overcome some of these barriers?
- Think about alternative methods of running a course, perhaps there might be opportunities at a mental health day centre for outside tutors to come in and deliver a course. Some colleges run separate courses for people with mental health problems that are able to be more flexible and where students can feel more supported. These should not be looked as somehow side-lining people from mainstream courses, but rather a means by which someone can be given confidence at a later stage to enrol on an ‘ordinary’ college course.
- Try and get your organisation or care home to make links with a local college and explore ways of supporting students. One barrier may be lack of awareness amongst college staff about mental health problems, so help them become more aware of service user needs so they can build in ways of helping the students.
David Beckingham – QCS Expert Mental Health Contributor