Insight into mental illness (Issue 14, 2009)

20090805_Academic-profiles_AKA La Trobe investigation into mental illness and how it affects students that disclose their illnesses has recently received $77,000 funding from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

Professor Annette Street, Associate Dean, Health Sciences and Annie Venville from La Trobe’s School of Social Work and Social Policy, who is based at the University’s Albury Wodonga campus, will lead the project. The research will also explore the role an individual’s choice to disclose or not disclose their mental illness has on their experience as a student.

This research is innovative because it aims to move beyond the existing statistical data on course completion rates and extend our understanding by listening to the experience of students.

‘We aim to capture the voice that has been largely missing from the research literature, the voice of the students themselves. My hope is the findings of this project will assist and equip TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and other VET (Vocational Education and Training) staff to support students with a mental illness, and inform the development of guidelines for managing disclosure and other aspects of students learning experience,’ Annie says.

Existing research indicates that the majority of VET students with a mental illness do not tell educational providers about their illness. Because of the silence surrounding mental illness, Annie says we have ‘little information about the experience of these students. This study aims to find out more about the factors that influence their choice not to disclose,’ she adds. 

‘TAFE’s and other VET providers have very good equity and access programs and support networks for students with a mental illness. Despite the existence of these programs, we believe that most students do not disclose their mental illness. Decisions about who to tell and when to tell about something as important as a mental illness are intensely personal ones,’ says Annie.

Professor Annette Street, says the grant is a clear indicator of NCVER’s commitment to addressing the nationally significant problem of poor course completions for VET students with a mental illnes.

‘La Trobe University is looking forward to working collaboratively with NCVER towards making a difference to the experience of learning for students with a mental illness,’ says Professor Street.