“I found myself crying for no reason” – Why talking about mental health could stop teachers quitting
Being open about her mental health stopped Kayleigh Marsden from leaving the profession she loves…
Just over two years ago I was ready to quit teaching for good.
Somewhere along the way I had lost the joy I first felt when doing the job; I was surviving each day, but most definitely not thriving. The year in which it came to a crisis point was incredibly rocky.
A mixture of extremely challenging behaviour on a daily basis, a work-place injury resulting in a moderate amount of time off work, and being a nomadic teacher had knocked me completely off kilter.
Daily tearful outbursts in store cupboards, during car rides home and in the toilets were becoming the norm. It was only once I found myself crying “for no reason” in the middle of Amsterdam during half term that I finally came to the realisation that I needed some help.
I had known I wasn’t happy for quite a while before, but it had never seemed the right time to move schools.
In January 2017, I secured myself a new job – under the impression that it would be the same and that by the summer term, I would be leaving teaching forever.
It was a leap into the great unknown; however, it had to be better than the daily dread I was still feeling when thinking about going to work every morning.
Time to talk
However, things started to change when I sought some help from my GP, who diagnosed me with a general anxiety disorder.
Although I was in tears (again) there was a sense of relief that a medical professional could put a label on the emotions running through me. I was offered the choice of medication and as I was in crisis it felt like a good option despite previously not wanting to go down that route.
Whilst the doctor was willing to sign me off for the rest of my contract, I wanted to see it out; it would have felt like another defeat to simply never return to the school.
Instead, I was offered a reduced timetable which resulted in taking away a class I had really struggled with since September.
It took a while for the medication to take effect but by the time I started my new school in Easter 2017, I felt emotionally stable enough to be able to cope with the demands of a full teaching load again.
I found the confidence to discuss my mental health with a senior member of staff after they had shared their own personal experience in a school assembly.
Previously, I felt compelled to keep my diagnosis a secret because to me (at the time) it did feel shameful.
Everyone else could cope, why couldn’t I?
A better place
Recently I have been awed by teachers who have been brave enough to share stories of their own challenges via Twitter, and eventually I worked up the courage to do the same.
The likes and messages of positive encouragement were overwhelming, but also highlighted a changing attitude towards mental health within the profession.
The media often focuses on students’ mental health, but there is still not enough in place to support teachers with existing and new mental health conditions. If there’s anything that I want people to take away from my experience it is that although I did have (and still do have) anxiety, the situations around us can also intensify those feelings of panic, dread and general nervousness.
By moving schools, I ensured that I didn’t walk away from a profession that I love.
Instead, I found a place that nurtured my talent and made me feel like I belong there. The environment in which I work now means I have been medication free for over a year now.; at the moment, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.
There are always bad days in any job; but happily, for me, the number of good days now far outweighs them.
Kayleigh Marsden is an English and media teacher, about to take on the role of assistant head of department in Bradford.