Yes, you’re right, this is my longest blog heading EVER.
As many of you will know, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen has started using silicon masks as a simulation aid in their teaching of mental health nurses
We were told that the same technology had been used in Hollywood blockbusters, like Mission Impossible; and, that these same masks had been used successfully to simulate the real life stories of patients with a physical malady.
Following the success in the world of physical health, it was obviously a no-brainer to make that transition into the world of mental health.
My history in education is that I’ve been the happy recipient of quite a lot of it.
Although there wasn’t much in the way of role play during my time as a psychology undergraduate in London, there was certainly a need for BAFTA nominations throughout my Masters in Social Work in Edinburgh.
Role play, although it can initially make you feel like a dingbat, is a really useful tool for everyone concerned – it gives a real opportunity to wear the shoes of another person – to begin to see what the world looks like from another’s perspective.
So, Hollywood technology – trained participants – what’s not to like?
While I’ve been rambling around the coast of the UK, talking to many different folk, from different walks of life who have different perspectives on the world of mental health, one statement, that’s been levelled at me many times, stands out.
‘But you don’t look like one…’
In a society where we don’t talk about mental ill health very much, where the only frame of reference for many people is the steady dribble of negative, often patronising, with regular images of head clutching victims, reportage in the media; where people with mental maladies feel the blunt hammer of prejudice through an ill conceived benefits system, or through the lack of parity of services with physical health services, where these services are rapidly diminishing while suicides and reports of childhood abuse are on the increase.
On a personal level, thanks to childhood sexual abuse, I am unable to look in a mirror, a behaviour that was galvanised over years of guilt.
In the world of physical ill health, people tend not to find themselves on the sharp end of prejudice – unless it’s obesity, at a push type 2 diabetes, and maybe lung cancer…
So, when people with a physical illness found that silicon masks were being used as a teaching tool to represent their plight on nursing courses, they didn’t mind.
This is all guesswork on my part – I can’t find any reviews from service users regarding the use of rubber heads on the interweb.
Having grown up in a society that is, by and large, prejudiced against folk with a mental illness, one can hardly blame this group for responding angrily when presented with…
Well, presented with what exactly…?
Take a look at these masks at the links above…the first thing that stood out for me was not the worthiness of role play and simulation in education…
My concern is that these masks are horrible. They look like the bastard child of ‘Zombies – Dawn of the Dead’ and the popular ’80’s parody show, ‘Spitting Image.’
They look different from you and, hopefully, from me. I’m not sure that I’d be so vocal had the masks portrayed people with mental health problems as stunning beauties. But, in a world that already portrays people with a mental malady as ugly in all kinds of ways…well, it felt like they were taking the piss.
Gone is the potential value in the classroom where mental health practitioners could track the lives of their punters in a safe yet challenging environment.
Gone are the See Me principles, where we recognise that people with a mental health problem are just like you – and just like me.
This Mask-Ed system paints us as others, as Golums, fresh out of Shaun of the Dead.
If the technology is there, why not make masks that look like you and me – I like to see myself as a heady mix of Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise and Phil Mitchell (not ever looking in mirrors has it’s benefits) – surely that would have been an altogether more authentic representation.
At no point did I think of the staff at Robert Gordon University as deliberately prejudiced, where they see folk with mental health problems as something consistent with these twisted caricatures. I fully believe they got caught up in the wonder of this alternative educational tool.
However…and this is a big HOWEVER…
Just because the use of these rubber muppets wasn’t intended to be stigmatising, the result was just as negative.
Walk a mile