The stress factor

27th April 2007 at 01:00
When depression strikes it feels as if it's taking over your life. The good news is that it does not last forever. Ian Mallor talks about his experience.

Severe depression does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone at any time. One in four people suffers from depression at some point in their life and that includes teachers who are sometimes liable to crumble under the unrelenting stress of the job.

I taught in a primary school in Coventry for 13 years before losing my confidence. I had low self-esteem and found teaching hugely stressful. I was constantly accountable to a wide range of people.

I began to doubt my abilities as a teacher. In short, I was not good enough. My doctor signed me off work with depression and I was prescribed antidepressants, but th-en my anxiety turned to how my colleagues would react.

I need not have worried. They were hugely supportive. But then, depression is not unknown in schools. Last year, 7,400 teachers contacted the Teacher Support Network complaining of either stress, depression or anxiety. A further 600 calls were specifically about depression.

And a survey by the National Association of Head Teachers in 2005 suggested almost 40 per cent of all absences among heads were down to work-related stress.

My symptoms were frightening. I was unable to sleep, I had no energy. I couldn't face food and lost two stone in weight. I was unable to make simple decisions or think clearly. I was having panic attacks and palpitations. My body was in constant "fight or flight" mode brought on by increasingly high levels of adrenaline, and suicidal thoughts entered my head. I needed help. I turned to Coventry City Council's occupational health team and had counselling. It emerged that I had "anticipatory fear"

- I was scared about all the things that could go wrong in school before they had even happened. I was also blaming myself for everything.

As well as counselling, I did a 12-week relaxation course run by Share (Self Help and Relaxation) which is part of Coventry Mind, the mental health charity.

Out of the 15 clients on the course, three were teachers and had similar symptoms and experiences. In all cases, stress was the trigger. The message was clear: reduce your stress and the downward spiral of depression would reverse.

And for me, it has. The healing process took more than six mon-ths, but the good news is that depression does not last forever. I am now developing a career in writing and my first book has gone into print. At last I can look forward to a brighter future A Teacher's Depression by Ian Mallor is published by Pipers' Ash Ltd. A documentary tracing his experiences, called The D Word, is also available at www.channel4.comfourdocsfilmfilm-detail.jsp?id=35006.

Beating the blues

Depression is an intense feeling of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness, accompanied by sleeplessness, a loss of energy, or physical aches and pains. In the first instance, you should visit your GP. Adopting these techniques can also help:

Join a network where you can talk to other people in similar situations.

Find out more about depression - this can reduce the misconceptions, guilt and fear that are often associated with the condition.

Relax. Depression is frequently associated with tension, stress and anxiety.

Many people with depression experience a loss of energy, but exercise will make you feel more positive.

Depression can affect your appetite so try to make sure that you eat regularly and sensibly. Fresh fruit and vegetables will provide you with valuable nutrients.

Try to continue with any hobbies or interests you have, even if you have difficulty concentrating.




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