“It’s okay not to be okay”
The importance of well-being in teachers.
No. This blog is not a tribute to Jessie J. Apologies if this is why you are here. However, for the majority of you the fact you are reading this blog tells me you either have some interest in finding out more about your own wellbeing or want to learn more about mental health in teaching staff. Perhaps to support a colleague or loved one. Whatever your reason, thank you for clicking through. You’re awesome.
So. Several of you may know that I released my own mental health blog a couple of weeks ago. A few of you may have even stumbled across it. It was a huge decision to put pen to paper and tell my very personal story to the world. I was not anticipating the amount of positive feedback I received and honestly, it was very emotionally overwhelming. So many of those who contacted me to say thanks or to share their own story were people I had no idea had suffered from mental health difficulties. In fact 1 in 6 has experienced mental health problems IN THE LAST WEEK.
That’s why I wanted to focus this blog on giving something back to the teaching profession. A profession I am always in awe of yet seems to be suffering a well-being epidemic.
When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness’.
I am not a teacher. Nor do I have your workload. However I have worked with dozens, perhaps hundreds of different teachers throughout my years as a speech and language therapist and I have yet to come across one who did not put pupils first. Especially if it meant sacrificing their own health in order to deliver a lesson. I’ve seen teachers come into school on crutches; legs and arms in casts, tissues stuck up each nostril and eyes red and streaming. Often these teachers will be sent home, much to their resentment. These teachers look as though they need time to recover, time to rest and make sure they are back to 100%. But what about the teaching staff with invisible illnesses? Those who wake up in the morning, drag themselves out of bed and put on their disguise. Externally they may seem fine. Internally they may be screaming.
I’m dedicating today’s blog to those teaching staff who need to put their own mental health and wellbeing first. After all if we can’t look after ourselves, how are we going to look after those who depend on us the most?
Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.
A survey taken in 2014 by TES found that 8 out of 10 teachers have suffered from mental-health problems. 80%!! We all know that schools are putting more money into providing mental health services for pupils and petitions are being submitted to the government asking for mental health to become part of the school curriculum. This is fantastic!! As someone who works with pupils who have Social, Emotional and Mental health (SEMH) difficulties I could not be more pleased. However I do often ask, what is in place for teaching staff? If we adults are meant to give children a good role model on how to deal with situations, should we not also be openly accessing wellbeing meetings and counselling sessions.
Something I am passionate about is breaking the taboo of speaking about mental illness. I want our children and the generations to come to be able to openly speak about their thoughts, feelings and fears as they would do if they had a migraine or stomach ache. We need to take action now in order for this dream to become a reality. And so if you are suffering from difficulties with your mental health, please try to follow these steps and bits of advice.
1. Recognise it’s okay not to be okay
If you take one thing away from the blog then let it be this. Please don’t beat yourself up about being down, or anxious, or scared. Don’t blame yourself if you are unable to get out of bed or if spilling a little bit of milk makes you break down in tears. Recognising that you are unwell is one of the first stages to getting better. If you are having panic attacks on a Sunday evening before going to school, or are unable to sleep because you are worried about your workload – this is not okay. Once you realise why these things are happening then hopefully you can start to work on getting your health back on track. Keeping a diary of what days you seem to be more anxious/down on may help identify the culprit. Although, sometimes there is no catalyst for developing mental health difficulties.
2. How do I know what’s normal?
Although technology and access to the big bad web is something that is not always the best for those who are anxious; I for example have a love/hate relationship with social media, it does open up channels for us to liaise with other professionals in similar positions. There are many private wellbeing groups on Facebook – Twinkl Wellbeing is one of my favourites for teachers. These are places where you can share, anonymously if you like, your concerns, worries, thoughts and feelings in a secure, supportive environment. Other members may be able to give you perspective on what’s happening and you can see if what you are experiencing is “normal” compared to others. Twitter also has great well-being chat hours and topics to talk about.
3. Take some you time
Over 80% of teachers in the TES survey mentioned earlier said their mental health was to do with their workload. This is not okay. Speak to your head teacher – they are responsible for staff wellbeing and should be able to help you structure your workload better. Pencil in 20-30 minutes of you time every day. This could be walking, running, yoga, colouring in, reading, painting. Whatever you fancy that is completely, totally 100% NOT work related.
4. Taking medication is okay
Now now. I don’t mean everyone should start popping illegal drugs before school. What I do mean is that if you need to take prescribed medication to help balance out your mind then go for it. Anyone who is suffering with their mental health should see their doctor who may prescribe anti-depressants, counselling and/or give you some time off work. Mental illness is often caused by a chemical in-balance in the brain. If you had a headache or toothache you would likely take tablets to help. This is no different. So don’t feel ashamed about taking these ones! The same goes for attending therapy, be it 1:1 or in a group. Remember – it’s okay to say!
This blog is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mental health and wellbeing in teachers. You are a truly inspirational profession and as such, should make sure you are at your best in order to get the best out of your students.
I wish you all the best and would like to leave you with a quote I find helps when I am in need of a smile.