Thursday, 10 October 2013

My experience of the Medical Model of Mental Health

As it's World Mental Health Day I took a moment to read some documentation I had been sent by UCU, the trade union for which I was a Learning Rep, Branch Secretary, and Equality Rep when I worked in Further Education. It was an interesting read, discussing the differences between the medical and social model of disability as applied to mental health. It led me to reflect upon how Canterbury College treated my mental health condition, as well as my understanding of the outcomes of that process. 

When I worked in the pre-16 department at Canterbury College, the contract we had with KCC was being routinely ignored. This contract stated that there would be a staff to student ratio of 2:8, when at times it was 1:14. I had often wondered why this was never discussed as part of my return to work (after being signed off for two months due to work related stress and depresssion). I had wondered if it were being "swept under the carpet". 

Upon my return I felt aggrieved that I'd received a letter stating I would return in a teaching role, having been told by the OH doctor that I could teach again with the right support, but instead was demoted because the College felt I couldn't cope. I felt this to the point that I never signed the new contract and sought voluntary redundancy at the end of the academic year, convinced I was about to lose my job anyway.  I felt I was being punished for not being able to cope in that one situation after ten years of dedicated service.

Since then I've often felt that I was completely mishandled by those in management at the College, but have felt unable to gain any redress for what I view as inflicted suffering. This is due in part to the fact that I am keenly aware that I do suffer from anxiety and depression, and that doing so has an effect on how I percieve even the most basic events. I'm clear, however, that even after a year away from the College, I still feel unhappy with my treatment at the hands of two individuals in particular (I'm not here to name and shame).

The nature of that treatment, and the reasons behind it, are now that much clearer to me. I believe the managers in question viewed my mental ill health as something which reduced my ability to cope in the environment in which I worked. They did not view it as being exacerbated by, or a result of, an unwillingness to adapt the environment to suit my particular needs. They even suggested that I hadn't done enough to inform them of my issues.

On that particular matter, they couldn't have been further from the truth. Before I was signed off I was in regular communication with the HR welfare officer, and I had repeatedly emailed my manager about my concerns. On the day I was signed off I had sought to inform both my senior manager and HR that I felt unable to return to the classroom and had told my line manager the same thing. I was, however, cajoled back into a classroom by that very same line manager.

The result of all this was ten stitches, two months of wasted public money, and the end of a potentially decent career. The reason for this is, perhaps, that mental health is viewed by Canterbury College from the medical model standpoint and not the social model standpoint. To be clear on this, I'm not suggesting that Canterbury College is unwilling to deal with mental health issues, I'm just suggesting reasons why I think it did so incorrectly in my case. 

So what could have been done differently? Essentially, the College's basic assumption was that my anxiety and depression were a result of my disability and by inference were therefore my barrier to fulfilling my duties. This meant that in considering reasonable adjustments they considered what roles existed that a person suffering from anxiety and depression might be able to cope with, which seems fairly sensible on face value.

What this ignores though is the transient nature of my ill health, the potential effects of the change of role on my self esteem (and its link to my mental health), and the specific reasons why my existing role effected my mental health condition. The key point here is that a reasonable adjustment under the social model should look first at adapting the existing role to the person, rather than assuming that it is the person that needs to be adapted to the role.

I will, of course, never know for certain that I could have returned to teaching. I will also never be certain that the College made no attempt to find adaptations to my existing role that could allow me to continue to complete it. I am convinced however that the use of language, and the actions taken, by two of my managers confirmed that they viewed my mental health from a medical model standpoint and that they in turn contributed to my leaving the College. 

I believe Canterbury College failed to adequately safeguard my mental health, and thus by inference to safeguard my students and colleagues. Moreover, the College then failed to carry out reasonable adjustments, instead seeking to remove the problem (me) rather than address the true problem (the role's effect on me). My reason for this assertion is the behaviour of the pre-16 management team, which includes a senior manager. In essence, I believe their behaviour and viewpoints reflected the culture of the College as a whole. 

My hope is that I am wrong.


Ridgeway Cottage anyhow said...

Work is something that should fill your life with purpose not weigh heavy on your ability to survive.These are not your failings but those of lesser men. I wait for the day that FE becomes about education and money and power return to the corporate world. Perhaps those two people should read The Lorax.

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