I’m a school teacher with a mental illness. I was subjected to two years of relentless bullying and constant questioning of my performance. On one occasion, another staff member swore at me because I was anxious. They were relentless in their criticism of the symptoms of my anxiety. Questioning my mental health, my competence and my capabilities as a teacher. This only served to increase my anxiety and upset, the more I got upset, the more they questioned my fitness to teach. ‘She is emotionally unstable.’ Bullying tends to do that.
Eventually, I hit crisis point, complete breakdown. My colleagues' first concern wasn’t for me – they were worried that I would be a risk to the students and colleagues, with one staff member referring to me as a burden. They believed that I shouldn’t be working in education. I have never hurt anyone else.
1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem at any time. If we stay quiet and pretend that mental illness doesn’t exist, what example do we set to young people who experience mental health problems? By acting this way, we’re telling them that they should be afraid of opening up in the future. Surely, in our profession of educating the next generation, we should be teaching our young people that discrimination is not ok. We shouldn’t be indulging false fears that people with mental health problems are dangerous or that their illnesses are contagious.
Instead, we should see teachers with mental health problems as role models to those children who may be suffering. Those with experiences of mental illness can be that, they can show children, that despite their illness, there is hope, they do have futures and they can fulfil their dreams. This creating a culture of openness in which children and young people feel safe to speak out, to share but most importantly, to seek support because they know it will be given. It might also help all the kids to view people with mental health problems differently and be less judgemental in the future.
Another colleague stated ‘I can’t believe, she, an adult, a teacher, attempted suicide, such drastic steps.’ Do adults not experience mental illness? Is it unprofessional for a teacher or a doctor to experience breakdown, particularly at the hands of bullying? No. What is unprofessional, moreover ignorant, is that someone would even suggest it is unprofessional for an adult to experience mental illness. The colleague then preceded to state ‘Everyone deserves a second chance.’ I had not committed a crime: would the colleague have stated that if I’d had an epileptic fit, or any other illness?
We must start embracing mental illness more readily in the workplace, particularly schools. We must create a culture of support and compassion. Attitudes like those displayed above, cost lives.
J.K Rowling, author of the best-selling book series in history began writing the Harry Potter series whilst suffering from clinical depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts. She stated, she hit rock bottom but that this bottom became a solid foundation for what came next. She once sent a fan a handwritten image of the well-known spell, ‘Expecto Patronum’. This spell is used to defeat dementors in the series. Let’s imagine those dementors as those that discriminate, stigmatise and bully. But perhaps instead of pushing the dementors away, let’s start educating them on mental health.