A few weeks ago, many of us observed the annual RUOK? day. I was privileged to have a few conversations with people about mental health. One gentleman spoke about having lost many friends and family members to suicide. A lady spoke with me about her struggles to accept the path her son had taken in life, the depression that resulted, and how she was able to get through it by talking regularly with a medical professional. Another lady shared her struggles with anxiety that have stemmed from being bullied as a child. There is certainly truth to Robin William’s quote of “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”.
The day got me thinking about the mental health of teachers as well. There’s no doubt that teaching is a tough profession. With 25% of teachers packing it in within their first 5 years, it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. From screaming kids, to school-yard drama, to staffroom drama, to paperwork, and everything in between - being a teacher requires a commitment, determination and patience that not all of us possess.
I firmly believe that teachers, along with parents, are the most influential people in our society. They are the ones raising and shaping our kids. They are the gate-keepers, the educators, the influencers of our future. I cannot think of a more significant job than this. So, as a teacher, your mental health is of paramount importance.
Aside from the stresses of the teaching profession, we all have personal lives to live as well. 20% of Australians will suffer from some form of mental illness in any given year. That’s 1 in 5 people – so chances are that a family member, friend, colleague or yourself will be affected by depression, anxiety or other mental illness. Unfortunately, people we know are struggling with these challenges on their own, embarrassed because they don’t “have it all together”, or scared that they’ll be judged, or simply not wanting to impose their “issues” on others.
So what can we do to help?
Nobody knows the stresses of teaching like another teacher does. Look out for each other. Don’t ignore your gut if you think someone might be struggling. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Or just be a friend. Sometimes we just need to know that we’re not alone, and a conversation will be all that’s needed to get back to good. Other times, we may need more than that. But it never hurts to let people know that you care, and it could make all the difference.
If you need help with ideas on how to get a conversation started, go to https://www.ruok.org.au/ for some great tips.
And if you are the one needing help right now, you are not alone. Like they say, no man (or woman) is an island. We need each other. It’s easy to withdraw and shut people out when things aren’t right, but please ignore those instincts and reach out instead.
Are your friends OK?
Are you OK?