Should I tell colleagues about my mental health issues?

Despite efforts to destigmatise mental health, stigma still persists – especially in teaching, says this teacher
12th December 2020, 12:00pm
Anonymous

Share

Should I tell colleagues about my mental health issues?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/should-i-tell-colleagues-about-my-mental-health-issues
Mental Health: How Schools Can Help Teachers Who Suffer From Anxiety

There are many things that I am really glad my headteacher and colleagues don't know about me. I would provide some examples, but that would defeat the point, wouldn't it?

But there are a few things I wish they knew. Not because I have an innate need for them to be known, but because it might help.

You see, I am a statistic. I am the one person in six with anxiety and depression, and both these conditions are as prevalent in the teaching profession as in any other

I wake up with constant dread and go to bed with racing thoughts, and the bit in between can often be unbearable. Racing thoughts, second-guessing, questioning everything. Have I said the right thing? Did I plan that lesson well? Why did you look at me like that?

Mental health: The physical and mental exhaustion of teaching

As we all know, in teaching we are making decisions non-stop. On average, that equates to 3,000 decisions per day. Now multiply that by an anxious brain. 

The physical and mental exhaustion of teaching is real, whether you are mentally well or not. But it's only made worse by whatever the biological root cause is of this disease. 

Yet I would be surprised if my colleagues knew any of that, because so many of us have become experts in disguise. We turn up and paint a brave face on it. Many of us walk around with a smile, go out of our way to be helpful to our colleagues, stand in front of a room and radiate confidence

In fact, that is how I have been described - verbatim, "very confident" - which serves only two purposes for me. It tells me that I am excellent at deceit. And it provides endless hours of attempting to unpick exactly what you mean by that.

Because now I have a wealth of possibilities at my door. Do you mean "you are arrogant"? "You're a show-off"? "Your loud voice is grating"? "You think you are much better than you actually are"? "I don't like you"?

So, instead of reading that summary of me as a single-word piece of praise, I now have a brain full of awful options. 

Of course, in a lucid time, it is possible to see that you probably just meant I don't seem nervous. And nothing more. Just that. But I can never know.

Workload and teacher wellbeing

In response, I go out of my way to be extra pleasant, to work harder, to do things to please. And the cycle perpetuates.

Then Friday arrives, or half-term, or Christmas, and time off is spent in a heap of exhaustion, barely being able to leave the house, and wracked with guilt that every day hasn't been spent doing something productive. Monday rears its head and the hamster wheel begins to turn again. 

There is a reason why I have asked for this article to be published anonymously. I do not want anyone knowing my struggles with mental health. I do not want parents, children or colleagues looking at me differently because I have to take medication just to function every day. Because professionalism could be called into question. Ability to cope queried. Pity definitely offered. And who wants that? 

Despite significant efforts to destigmatise mental health, stigma still persists. Especially in our profession. We are responsible for so many children every single day. How can we fulfil our role when we can barely exist ourselves? We do it because, as a profession, we put ourselves to one side. Which, ultimately, only exacerbates the issue. 

So, if there is one thing I would ask SLT to do, it would be to talk to us. Ask if we're OK, and really mean it, without judgement. And we should do the same for them. 

Maybe then stigma would disappear, and we could halt the exodus from the classroom that we have seen in recent years. Or is that just a bit too positive for an anxious brain to suggest? 

The author is a science teacher in the North of England

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters