I have a lot of field teaching experience through university but also working for an NGO.

For the NGO I was dealing with up to 800 students every summer at international sites often in very challenging conditions (for example: cloud rainforests). The most challenging thing I had to deal with was students’ mental health. Back then, mental health wasn’t really talked about but now we have a much greater awareness of it. I would encourage everyone to take a mental health first aid course because it has helped me enormously and I wish that course had existed when I was working for the NGO. I also think staff need to be better trained in providing pastoral care. Often, we run fieldtrips because we love fieldwork, but a lot of a fieldtrip is dealing with pastoral care. Fieldwork is the ultimate test in pastoral care because we’re sticking students in challenging conditions (for example: eating different foods, being in different environments, having different interactions) and this can be difficult and emotional for students even if they do not have mental health issues.

I have found that mental health has been dealt with quite poorly in the field in the past. We have mandatory first aid (if someone sprains an ankle, we know what to do with them), but, as far as I’m aware, not many departments have mandatory mental health first aid. This means that some mental health issues have been misunderstood by staff because they just don’t understand. They think that the student is being stubborn or something along those lines when they are having an anxiety attack or something similar. I’ve been on a mental health first aid training, and I do think it is something we have got better at but we’re not quite there yet.