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One man's battle against stress

Dr Eric Jones, 47, has been head of science at Bettws High, Newport, Gwent, for 15 years but has been off sick since last November. He is married and has two sons.

A fortnight ago, he received a letter from the Teachers' Pension Agency saying that his application for early retirement on health grounds had been rejected. He is now appealing against the decision.

"My problems started more than four years ago. I was always in school by 7.45am and would be one of the last to leave at 5pm. I would go home, have my dinner, and then work until 10.30 or 11pm. That happened four or five days a week. I would also work on Saturdays and Sundays. Perhaps my standards are too high. Perhaps I should have delegated more, but I was trained to be a teacher, not a manager.

"The main bugbear was all the administration to do with the many changes to the national curriculum. The present science curriculum is the fifth draft. It meant rewriting schemes of work, setting tests and tick-lists. It led to a tremendous amount of rethinking. Going through that time and again finally got to me.

"One morning I woke up and dreaded getting out of bed and going to school. There were tears and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. The doctor was sympathetic and prescribed medication.

"After three or four weeks, I began to feel better and returned to school. It didn't last, however. Again I found I was unable to cope or to concentrate. I was taking forever to do half-hour jobs.

"Eventually I got into a pattern of taking three to six weeks off, returning to school, and then having to take more time off. It wasn't doing my health any good and, although the head was very supportive because he knows I am conscientious, it wasn't a good situation for the school either. My second in department would take over, and then I would have to come back and pick up the reins again. It was always difficult going back, because you find you have all the old pressures, plus those caused by being away.

"As time went on, I came to the conclusion that I should apply for early retirement.

"I went to my doctor and told him what I thought and he said: 'Yes, I think it is the best thing to do.' When I mentioned it to my consultant psychologist, he was also in agreement. I didn't think there would be a great problem getting early retirement - at least two of my colleagues had applied for and got early retirement on health grounds the previous year, and they hadn't been suffering as long as I had been.

"When I got the letter from the Teachers' Pension Agency I was devastated. Devastated and then angry, because I felt I had a good case. I have written back to the TPA and told them that if I had been in one of my low spots when the letter arrived, I could have done something serious. I'll now appeal because I cannot face going back to school. I have struggled with this illness for long enough. My quality of life has been extremely poor - and it has been hard for my wife, too.

"Occasionally we would go dancing on Friday evenings, but otherwise I have had little time with my family or for recreation.

"All my time was spent working. It was just too much for one person to have to do."

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