Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 2
Supported education was originally conceived as a way to improve the employment prospects of people with serious mental illness. Helping people go back to school was seen as a way to fill gaps on a resume, a chance to attain job-relevant skills, and a way beyond deadend jobs.
While skills and employment prospects are obviously important qualities, these days education is also seen as something that is valuable in and of itself. It represents a new start, and a chance to establish an identity beyond one’s illness — to think of oneself as not just a person with an illness, but a student, with all the promise that implies.
We’re also realizing that mental illness often strikes young people when they’re in the midst of their educational careers and that with prompt, appropriate intervention, a young person with an illness can maintain a foothold in the educational world; and we’re realizing at the same time that successfully managing one’s education can be closely related to successfully managing one’s illness.
As the concept of supported education evolves, mental health services personnel are understanding that they, too, must play an integral role in this process, and that comprehensive mental health care goes beyond medical treatment of symptoms; it also involves support to help people function effectively in the roles that they value.
Educational institutions themselves are moving beyond seeing students with mental illness as ‘behaviour problems’ or ‘disruptions,’ and are understanding that with the right kinds of support and accommodations, these individuals can be successful academically, even if they do have to adjust their expectations about what constitutes success, or how long it takes to get there.
As one of our contributors writes, it takes a ‘village’ to help students with mental illness succeed. It’s a collective effort of the individual’s family and friends, the physician, the community worker, the clubhouse worker, the rehabilitation professional, the disability resource centre, the counselling department, the special education program, the instructor, the teaching assistant, and the fellow student, including the fellow student with mental illness.
Above all, though, it is the courage and determination of the student with mental illness that paves the way to success. These qualities can never be underestimated, as the person with mental illness moves toward and succeeds in their educational aspirations.