The Darkest Term Revisited: Teacher Stress and Depression Part 2December 15, 2015
The most viewed post on this blog is one from two years ago entitled The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression in which teachers shared their stories of stress and depression. Last year I contacted some of those people to see how they were getting on, although I never got round to publishing their responses. I’ve also contacted them again this week. This post contains one of the accounts from the original post and any updates.
Original Account: December 2013
I’ve been on anti-depressants for just over a year. Initial prescription was for depression and anxiety. The school based factors have been:
- Working in a Category 4 school is intensely pressured. There are more negative than positive conversations with leaders and managers which is always making me think: “What have I done wrong this time?”;
- Getting a grade 3 lesson observation in Ofsted and Performance Management observation in the same year. I eventually got a 2, but lesson observations now fill me with huge anxiety;
- Not being allowed onto the next point on the pay scale (despite my own yr 11 classes results being better than HoD and fulfilling all performance management targets and then some);
- Negative inter-departmental politics;
- Constant monitoring of work eg. book trawls, learning walks, planner reviews etc.;
- Bullying by a colleague;
- Verbal abuse from pupils becoming an everyday occurrence;
- A timetable and marking load I can’t actually manage;
- Pay freeze, making life more difficult financially.
- No work/life balance for entire time I’ve been teaching.
These are the ones I can think of off of the top of my head.
Update: December 2014
How I got mostly better:
1. I was signed off work for a total of 10 months – looks horrific I know but it took a good 4 months before I began to sleep properly, and another few months after that for the worst of the thoughts that the Black Dog generates to dissipate.
2. During that time I had a dizzying array of prescriptions – some for the depression and anxiety, others for constant minor illnesses. Thankfully, I now rattle a little less from all my meds.
3. I made good use of the counselling available to me via Occupational Health, they were lovely and helped me devise an exit strategy
4. I had time to seek careers advice – at the time I was utterly desperate to leave teaching. It was useful to at least know where else my teaching could take me.
5. I had time to apply for jobs – which takes lots of time to look, research and apply for. I had no hope of doing so while working the hours I was under the stress I was.
6. I kept in contact with my HT regularly, we met up once a month, off site on neutral territory. I emailed her with updates as to my well being as often as was helpful. This enabled a mutually fruitful arrangement for how and when I left the school.
7. I cleared as many debts as I could, so that with a pinch, I could find part-time work.
8. I read an awful lot and learned to fill my days fruitfully but without undue stress or pressure
9. I absolved myself of guilt – not easy initially but self-flagellation would not have helped me get better.
10. I learned to ask for help and accept it. Then I finally had the courage to apply for a job I REALLY wanted in a sector I had intended to move to after a certain amount of time in Secondary school.
11. Never say never, but at the moment, I cannot see myself back in a secondary school any time soon. If I were to? Not full time. It is not a way of life you can hope to sustain, whilst also sustaining yourself.
Update: December 2015
In a nutshell – much happier out of secondary school, don’t regret leaving the sector for a moment – teaching lots of A-Level is brilliant, if mentally exhausting, and I love working in FE.
If anyone reading this is experiencing stress and depression themselves, you should be aware of the Teacher Support Network which runs a hotline and offers practical advice. If it is your working conditions that are making you ill, or if you want help with ensuring that you are supported at work having being diagnosed with stress or depression, I would recommend contacting your union.