Should Teachers Talk about Mental Health More?
“If you reveal that you are stressed, it is seen as a great weakness – that you are just not up to the job” – as described by Clare, a teacher signed off with stress in the past. The stigma around work-related stress is clearly still rife.
A recent Teacher Support Network survey demonstrated that a staggering 40% of people with a mental health problem didn’t talk to anyone about it as they saw it as a sign of “weakness”.
David Ambler, ATL district secretary, adds the following; “to reduce the stigmatisation of mental illness requires more than simply a change of attitude among head teachers and senior management in school. It requires a change of attitude among the general public and parents to understand that teaching is a stressful job and sometimes teachers go under or need treatment.”
Mental Health, in schools perhaps even more than anywhere else, is treated dramatically different to a physical illness. Michael was diagnosed with depression; his current employer put him on a 6 month trial as it was ‘such a risk’ taking him on. Would the same have been done for a broken leg Michael asked?
Many people are confident that this can be changed with the right support in place. Alison describes a more open culture to mental health in the Netherlands. It starts with talking and being open with everyone.
Openness about mental illness could also go some way with helping students by ensuring they have positive role models. Perhaps a teacher who has suffered from an eating disorder should share her experiences? Let the students see it is ok to talk about mental health and it can affect anyone. But there can be recovery, with openness and treatment.
(*All names have been changed)