'I took an overdose at my desk': Teachers speak about about the mental health 'pandemic' gripping the profession

One speaker at the NASUWT teaching union's conference gives tearful tribute to colleague who died last year

Charlotte Santry

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Teachers today spoke tearfully about the mental health 'pandemic' within the profession - with one revealing she had taken an overdose at her desk.

The members of the NASUWT teaching union were speaking at this weekend's annual conference in Birmingham, in a discussion about teachers' mental health and wellbeing.

Many spoke about the huge toll their jobs have had on their own mental health, and on colleagues', due to increasing workloads and growing scrutiny of the performance of pupils, teachers and schools.

Several speakers were concerned that these pressures were contributing to serious mental health problems and even suicides.

Claire Taylor, a teacher in Durham, said: "There's a pandemic of mental health illness within teaching. I'm a lucky one. It's been four years [and] eight months...since I took an overdose at my desk at work. 

"I got help...but we don't have that across the country."

She called on the education system to work with the NHS, and for teachers to prioritise their mental health.

"We need to stop thinking of the children first, sadly, and think of ourselves first," Ms Taylor said. "And until we do that, this isn't going to change...Think of yourself as a person first, and not just a teacher."

Another member, Gwerfyl White, from Surrey, burst into tears as she took to the stage, remembering a colleague who had died earlier this month, aged 38, although she did not specify the reasons why.

"Teaching is a vocation, healthy teachers are healthy learners," she said.  "Because we care, we're our own worst enemies.

"We could say 'no', but we don't - we care. We put our children in our classrooms - their learning - before our own health. We need to change the culture."

Meanwhile, Elaine Paling, from Oxford, said she was worried that her local schools-based initial teacher training (scitt) was offering a "Surviving Excessive Stress" course. She said: "If we're actually putting into our curriculum the fact we're going to have excessive stress, I think that's wrong."


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Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry is deputy news editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @CharlotteSantry

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