If you’re a twitter user, you may have noticed that this weekend a prominent, highly-regarded teacher offered an opinion about mental health and wellbeing that was rather controversial and for some, including myself, upsetting to come across.
The tweet read:
Twitter at your best: Sharing ideas. Pooling resources. Generating debate. Twitter at your worst: Droning on about your mental health / wellbeing as if you work down a Victorian bloody coalmine. Get a grip.
I’m not going to name and shame as the tweet has now been removed. However before it was deleted there had been a barrage of more than 250 responses striving to counteract the statement made. It was pleasing to see that not a single response had been in agreement and that so many came out in support.
A bit of a shock!
When I first read the tweet I was flabbergasted that a member of the teaching community that I held in high esteem, could say such an insensitive thing. I retweeted with a comment explaining how I was ever grateful that I’ve been able to talk about my mental health and wellbeing over the last 3 years and left it at that.
However it stuck with me throughout the night and by morning I was rather angry. I had to respond directly so I outlined how being able to talk about and share by experience online meant I was able to accept my experience and later recuperate from the depression and breakdown.
However I also felt ashamed, firstly ashamed that others could feel this way about such an important issue and secondly because it brought back how I felt before I brokedown in Spring 2016 when I’d been too scared to face the reality of my mind and emotions. It’s really hard to hear others speak of mental health and wellbeing like it doesn’t matter, because when you’ve come so close to ending everything because of work-place stress, you know full well it’s not something to dismiss.
Worst thing is I’m not alone.
As a result of willingly sharing my experience, I’ve been in the position whereby not one but two fellow teachers have contacted me to discuss their mental state. One told me what they were planning on doing at the time, the other didn’t until weeks later. It was heartbreaking to hear, however, if they hadn’t reached out on those nights it could have been a very different story for them, their families and their schools. That’s two people that needed to talk, but there are countless others in similar circumstances. For instance, the Education Support Partnership year-on-year are seeing rising numbers contact them, in the year 2018/19 they saw a +28.1% cases compared to 2016/17. What a rise.
But there are also those that never reach out, that keep their challenges hidden and those that eventually leave the profession because it gets too much to deal with. We can’t hide from the issue.
We’ve got to keep talking!
Mental health challenges are easily hidden and without talking, how are we to uncover them? How to we de-stigmatise them? How do we make people feel okay about how they feel? How do we get people to reach out for help?
We need to talk and we need to look after and out for each other; be it ourselves, our colleagues or our students. We need to normalise the discussion, we need to normalise any need for support and we need everyone to know that it is okay to not feel okay. Society and individuals need that as much as schools do.
We all deserve to be happy.
Staff in schools have as much right to positive wellbeing, to be happy and to live free from excessive work-place stress just as much as the young people we work with. No body should be made to feel ashamed about their mental and physical health or their wellbeing and no one should be made to feel ashamed about talking about either.
I’m in a fortunate position whereby I have been able to publicly verbalise how many others are feeling. I’m contacted daily by teachers, school leaders and support staff about their wellbeing or lack of as the case usually is, each one fearful of saying anything whether it be to their schools, their loved ones or a professional. They don’t want to be seen as weak, inadequate, failing or add in any other negative connotation. But having the ability to speak to someone that has been through similar helps, it most certainly helped me. I was kindly offered support by a highly experienced geography teacher that had been through several of his own breakdowns and mental health challenges. His words lifted me on some of my darker days because he understood better than any of my friends or family could. Not only had he had similar mental health challenges, he was a teacher too. He understood. And that’s what is needed. Understanding and empathy.
Too many of those I speak to, meet or listen to say their school leaders, line managers, head of department or the like, lack it. That they’ve been told to get themselves together, that they’ve been told to grin and bear it, they’ve been told that everyone finds it hard they’re not the exception etc.
That’s not how we should treat one another; that’s not how we normalise mental health; that’s not how we save lives.
Teaching broke me. But it also helped me.
I’m stronger, braver and prouder now than I’ve ever been and that’s thanks to teaching and Edutwitter. I know I’ve been able to help others, whilst so many have unknowingly helped me. And so…
I’m standing proud and owning my mental health. I’m standing proud and talking about mental health. I’m standing proud and normalising mental health.
Because mental health matters and so do you!
Need help? Who can you talk to?
The Education Support Partnership are the only UK charity dedicated to improving the wellbeing and mental health of education staff in schools, colleges and universities. They have a 24/7 helpline if you need to talk about anything, whether it be professional or personal they are there to help.
Alternatively, find someone with #Talk2meMH on twitter. They are happy to talk not as a professional but as a friend. Some have been through their own challenges others have significant understanding and empathy.
Either way, if you need to reach out and talk, ensure you do so.
P.S. I’m fundraising for Ed Support by walking 100km in 48 hours from London to Brighton next May. To find out more or to donate check out my Just Giving page here.