It takes one to *know* one.

I am coldly furious.

Furious at the fact that I keep meeting old friends and colleagues that have also fallen prey to mental Ill-health and are in various degrees of distress or recovery.

Furious that a trickle of damaged colleagues seems to be turning into a steady stream with every reason to believe that at some schools it will be a flood.

Furious that the Heads and SLT wring their hands whilst deploying the SS defence: “We were only obeying orders”. Heads have unprecedented power in schools; they are either honest, moral, compassionate and humane or they are not. Crocodile tears that their position is vulnerable as every teachers is, arguably more arbitrarily, are bitter to the rest of us as they leave with the large pension and/or payoff that rivals the mean salary of the staff that remain.

Furious at the lie that Special Measures improves schools and OFSTED are a neutral monitor.

Furious at the explosion of pay and positions of these illness inducing apparatchicks whilst schools wail about funding and the necessity for economy, as usual sliding the responsibility to the external entity of Government, governance or Trust. As is ever the case: workers’ pay must be restrained so that managers’ pay is inflated all in the name of competition. As the shortages bite, some are relieved of this constraint but that simply squeezes the rest, especially the semi-redundant non-“ebacc” teachers.

Most furious of all at the havoc caused to the innocents by the destruction in the health of their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters. Their world is shaken by the earthquake of uncomprehended change in their loved one. Family are hard hit by illness but when it is of the mind it is subversive, invisible and directly threatening. I am not an expert on any mental illness except my own depression but I would like to offer some general thoughts which I hope will help the spectators of distress that form the collateral damage of workplace inspired mental illness to have hope that there is a happy ending to work for and that their loved one is still there; not different, just sick.

I don’t agree with the definitions of depression that the NHS publishes; they talk about persistent low mood, most of the small circle of fellow sufferers that I try to help (and vice-versa) had no mood: they were reduced to automaticity by the corrosive long-term stress. One of them had planned his own demise in exceptional detail, but the rest had no such ideas. They were mentally sleepwalking to disaster thinking that they were coping. All of them had personality change, principally irritability and lack of enthusiasm for family life. They had fatigue and lack of concentration, an inability to plan for the future, insomnia and varying degrees of anxiety. They were glum but not sad, and distracted. Most tried to work their way out of distress, increasing their hours to try to manage the unpredictable. All of them distressed their families.

All of my colleagues are in various stages of recovery, as am I. Mental illness is common, can affect anyone (just like infection) and is treatable: recovery is very, very usual. But it takes time. Quite a lot of time and huge patience. I urge anyone with any of the issues above to see their GP, they are great and very used to seeing these conditions; they can really help: they want to help. If you feel that the change in your loved one may be permanent it almost never is, they are the same its only the behaviour that has changed due to their unusual thinking caused by their illness: they will come back to you. Eventually. If you worry that they mostly seem OK and perhaps the extra strain that they are causing the family is unwarranted please try to be patient: they are not OK and it takes treatment and time to become less fragile and able to fully feel secure. If you think they are being lazy, this sickness robs you of the concentration and motivation to function. If you think they have lost interest in you (and for partners: interest in sex), it’s not them it’s the condition. If anything they love and need you more. If you think that they are flawed, they aren’t: they are normal. I think I can design regimes that would eventually cause anyone to break, I have seen a lot of the necessary components. I may not be able to break psychopaths as empathy seems to be a requirement for the stressful measures to work. But I have seen so many diverse personalities succumb, I think few can avoid the inevitable outcome. They will not become dependent on the medication, but may need its support for an extended period. They may not feel that talking therapies are helping but eventually they usually do. Ultimately, they may even be better than before: they will have a deep and perspicacious insight into their own mind and will be more resistant to relapse.

They may not be able to continue with their career long term in they way they had formerly planned but few will feel unable to work. They will value their family and friends with a new insight. They will get better, they are ‘worth it’ and they are so so sorry that they had to put you through all of the confusion and fear; they will forever feel guilty about that. They shouldn’t: it wasn’t their fault, it was the monsters at work that brought it about.

On a personal note: if I could go back in time and stop the breakdown, I wouldn’t. I think I am far more likely to have a happy life in future than would have been the case without it. But then I saw my Doctor, had treatment and the support of good friends. My future is bright, but I am still fucking furious!

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3 Responses to It takes one to *know* one.

  1. Pingback: The kids are alright | teaching personally

  2. ijstock says:

    Very well captured. Your experience is my experience, as you know. You have sharpened up some of my own experience in this post too – thank you. This issue needs to be brought to the attention – both to prevent more burn-outs (if possible) and to highlight the need for fundamental change. Schools must be *made* to take their staff’s well-being seriously, in the way that too many still don’t.

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