Mental Health Awareness Day – A Reflection
As we all may know, it’s Mental Health Awareness Day. As a teacher, there’s the added pressure if not only keeping our classrooms together but also hold ourselves together. Life can be challenging & as professionals, we do everything in our power to prevent the stresses & strains at home impeding us at work.
Education Support Partnership have noted a 28% rise in cases of mental health for teachers between 2018 & 2019.
Well… I’m a being but am I a ‘well being’?
As a boy, I was brought up around the stern toxic masculinity. ‘Boys don’t cry’, ‘you can’t show your feelings’ & ‘man up’ we’re terms I heard pretty regularly both at school & with peers. To be very honest, I was actually very arrogant about mental health issues. My arrogance was the result of lack of lived experience, & yeah, self-distancing. I didn’t understand depression, anxiety or any emotion.
It was with my own loss when I lost my own arrogant & pretentious ways. The Tommy Hilfiger jackets lost their appeal & time talking deep with peers was something I’d prefer on demand rather than at a sporadic social gathering. My Teaching with Grief blog uncovers exactly how I understood loss & ‘coped’ with it.
It’s so important to remember that at the heart of mental health dialogue is the word of the moment ‘Teacher Wellbeing’. Not the Cookie Monster, forced staff gatherings, support planning, dodgeball playing teacher wellbeing. But the holistic, empathetic & workload tackling teacher wellbeing that people like Tom Rogers tweet about daily.
My big reveal.
When I realised I had anxiety, I did absolutely everything under the hot sun to avoid it. Same for when I was suffering from depression. ‘It can’t be me’, ‘this happens to older people’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’. I continued to lie to myself and make up ways to avoid thinking about it. It took months to accept that crying for no reason or constantly fidgeting was just not right. I loved my job, I loved teaching & in no part do I think it made me feel so low. But then it hit me, teaching, it’s pressures & workload were part of the problem. I’d bury myself in work, deliberately avoid the mental health question by making a new resource or jazz up an old SOW. The time came, I had to open up. I initially called up the Education Support Network and then Sane. I now wear a red Sane mental health awareness wristband at all times. I’ll leave links for both organisations at the end of this blog.
‘Feelings are like limbs, they can hurt too’
Teachers are seen as brave, resilient & strong creatures. Some people think we’re indestructible, that we can withstand anything. This is, of course, not true. Are teachers immune from emotions? Are they void of mental health issues? Do they not have an emotional compass? With the pressure of workload, we too need time to understand things. To understand how we feel, to understand why things are the way they are.
I remember a conversation with a colleague who told me “Shuaib, your feelings are like a limb, they can hurt too. They can ache. If you’d go doctors for a headache, why not go to him for heartbreak?’. As the term ‘wellbeing’ is being socially sanitised by Educationalists, it’s true, before we expect any empathy or kindness from the schools HR department or Head PA, we have to accept that feeling down, hopeless, anxious, nervous, scared, worried or fearful is not okay. Neither is not eating or sleeping. Wellbeing starts with you. It’s unlikely your workload will be significantly cut but you can take care of yourself.
Given the extraordinary number of blogs on this topic, I’ve kept it short. Its absolutely imperative to use the vast educational networks to support yourself and your colleagues with mental health.
Do we talk about it? Absolutely. Be brave. Start the conversation. Reducing the stigma will only begin with us starting the dialogue. Avoiding such conversations will only exacerbate the issue. If we suffer in silence, those we love will also suffer. If we don’t start the dialogue our students will be socialised into thinking the mental health taboo is ‘normal’ or acceptable. It isn’t. We have to lead from the front.
I would like to end with a poem. I was an aspiring Rapper once you know. Now I write poetry & wear cardigans! This ones called Barking Mad
“He’s barking mad”, continuously sad, no smile or apparent reason,
Like Breaking Bad, watched continuously, season by season,
Mental health is the buzzword on everyone’s lips,
Friends, neighbours, strangers, even the Postman offers tips,
Are you mindful or is your mindful?
Phobias, depressions, worries, anxiety; the mental health waiting room is full,
Awaiting news, diagnosis, prescriptions & therapy,
Tablets & remedies, come in all shapes and remedies,
You see, we all cope, albeit others better than some,
Some are in turmoil, some turn to drink, some pray & some run,
Doctors should prescribe patience & empathy to our loved ones,
An ear, a shoulder, to show love to loved ones,
Not cliches, brochures & broken promises,
A lack of education the true nemesis,
A depressive soul will often compare themselves to a progressive soul,
Through this comparison they suffer further heartbreak,
There’s seemingly no escape,
Others plaster their successes over social media,
We’re easily made to feel inferior,
But there’s no obvious cure,
Until you seek help, time shall pass, that’s for sure.
“He’s barking mad, continuously down but I won’t ask for his reasons,
Like Breaking Bad, I’ll keep watching, season by season.
Thank you for reading.