Ted's teaching tips

8th December 2000 at 00:00
This shocking picture raises a taboo issue - mental illness. Such a tough topic needs extremely sensitive handling, as children might be afraid, and some may have a mentally ill person in their family.

Mental illness What is "mental illness" (a variety of disorders of the mind)? What kinds are there (distinguish between "neurosis" - anxiety, depression, which many people may experience at stressful times in their lives, and "psychosis" - often involving hallucination, from which only a small number of people suffer. A few people, such as psychopaths, have acute personality disorders - no moral sense of right and wrong or remorse)?

What is the treatmentcare (distinguish between psychiatrists - qualified doctors specialising in the treatment of mental illness, who prescribe drugs for those who hallucinate; and clinical psychologists - who examine severe emotional problems such as acute depression and suggest courses of action such as family therapy)?

Who else can help (community psychiatric nurses, who visit people and help them deal with their problems; and approved psychiatric social workers, who work out patients' social needs such as for housing in a hostel or supported employment)?

What was the man in the picture suffering from (paranoid schizophrenia, cause not fully understood: person hallucinates and believes he or she is being persecuted - but not "split personality")?

Family What is the effect on the family (can cause stress, if not supported; relatives may suffer "folie a deux", the belief that they too are ill; feeling of guilt if theill person is put into care, although many are harmless and gentle; possible danger if relative's behaviour is violent; some mentally ill people can be manipulative and ruin relationships between family members)?

Homelessness Why do people become homeless (lose their job; rejected by, or fall out with their family; suffer from mental illness; choose to live rough for other reasons)? What can be done (there are hostels run by local authorities, churches, or charities such as the Salvation Army)? Why are so many young people homeless (often go to a large city and it doesn't work out; you have to be fit to survive, so older homeless people may end up in hospital or even die; rebel against their parents' authority)?

Writing Imagine you suddenly lose your home, have no money and can't find a job. What is life on the streets like? What would you do?Steal? Beg? Busk? Live rough?If so, where?

Talking points

Should we give money to people who beg in the street?

For Many beggars are homeless through no fault of their own. Charity is a feature of a caring community. Life on the streets is dangerous to health, especially in cold weather, so proper food is essential. Begging is harmless, better than stealing. We should think of the less fortunate.

Against Giving money discourages beggars from seeking a job. Some are "professional" beggars. How can we know they won't spend the money on drugs or alcohol and make their plight worse? The Government will not bother if we pay up.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

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