A special needs teacher has described how her mental health deteriorated so badly as a result of bullying by colleagues at her school that she started self-harming .
The teacher, who only wishes to be known as Anna, is among a rising number of teachers and classroom support assistants who are calling a confidential helpline set up by the Education Support Partnership (ESP) charity.
She said: "It [the bullying] really affected my mental health. I ended up in a very dark place and took two overdoses.
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"I had counselling through ESP which I then continued myself after my Dad died. The helpline was amazing. It was a light in a very dark tunnel."
In a report out today, the charity says it dealt with 9,615 cases last year – up 28 per cent on two years ago, while the numbers of education staff clinically assessed to be at risk of suicide rose by 57 per cent to 561 last year.
An NQT in a primary school who called the helpline also said she had been self-harming, on a daily basis, and had been having strong thoughts about suicide.
She said: “I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression for a while which was triggered after a relationship break-up at the start of my NQT year. I then found the stress of my NQT year overwhelming and really struggled to get through it. I’ve tried various medications and had CBT counselling sessions through the NHS and for a while, things were getting better. Towards the end of last year though, my mental health started to decline.
“One day I woke up wanting to email my headteacher to say that I wouldn’t be coming in and that I was planning to end my life. A friend encouraged me to see my GP and I was signed off work for a couple of weeks before the Christmas holidays. The thought of returning to work terrified me though, in particular, the worry of how I might be treated by my headteacher and the possibility of losing my job. I found the ESP helpline so helpful during this time and it kept me going while I was on the long waiting list for counselling in my area on the NHS. It helped me feel OK about returning to work and since then, I’ve opened up to my headteacher.”
The charity highlighted, in its Teacher Wellbeing Index, published in October, how almost a third of teachers had suffered a mental health problem in the last year, and said there had been a “sharp rise” in teachers suffering irritability or mood swings as well as tearfulness among teachers.
Another teacher, Helen, didn’t call the helpline until things had become so bad that she had quit her job.
Despite working in her primary school for 22 years, she said the last three years had been “really tough” after she’d been bullied and indiscriminately placed on a support plan which undermined her confidence.
“I was still feeling very frustrated and upset," she said. "I felt I needed to talk to someone about it.
“The staff member on the helpline was just really good at listening. Teaching has been my life and what happened had really affected my health. As time goes on my anxiety levels have decreased. I’ve got targets and things to aim for in my new life as a supply teacher.”
Lauren, an NQT in science at a secondary school, who called the helpline, said: “Teaching can be a very isolating job, even when you’re training.
“I’ve also found it really difficult to manage the job with having a family. The ESP helpline was very supportive in just listening to my worries and has helped me cope better.”
The charity urges anyone working in education who is feeling overwhelmed, fearful, worried, anxious or disinterested in life to call it on 08000 562 561, 24/7, no matter how insignificant they think their problems may be.
* The names of the teachers in this article have been changed