Teaching requires most of your time and energy.
Responding to infinite amounts of demands, commands and errands every day puts your mental health and well being at risk if you don’t have the right toolkit to care for yourself.
One of the biggest challenges we all face in our lives is the rising impact of mental illness.
I was recently in a training course with Youth Focus Australia, that was focused on youth and adolescent mental health and in particular suicide intervention. One of the more difficult and harrowing courses that we all pray nobody has to ever put into practice.
The presenter is a good friend and has some incredible and touching stories from his many years working all over Western Australia. After being closely affected by suicide and losing family members to this tragedy, he has been developing programs to help prevent suicide and mental health in young people. He shares his tips and steps on how to respond to critical incidents, but one of his main programs is how to look after yourself.
Unfortunately, the statistics haven’t been great in recent times, with under 1 in 4 young Australian’s aged 15-19 years old were reported as having a serious mental illness in a study conducted by Black Dog Institute.
The same study shows, the top three issues of personal concern for young people meeting the criteria for a probable serious mental illness were coping with stress, school or study problems and depression.
We have students who are affected by mental illness at such a young age and as teacher’s it is often difficult to comprehend how these mental health concerns arise so often. You do your best to support and care for your students. You have built rapport and show a genuine interest in their lives.
We are trained and developed to respond to student needs and we have a bunch of organisations who can provide assistance when a student is struggling, but are you every really prepared for it?
The amount of training and professional development around student learning, well being, needs, standards etc is overwhelming for some teachers. We all attempt to master looking after our students and staff.
But, what about yourself?
When did we get taught how to manage our well being?
What happens when you’re the one that’s not okay?
My university degree or teacher training certainly did include a unit about mental health, mindfulness or managing well being.
You’re expected to be the students first point of call, the strong, positive role model who has established trust with your students and is there to provide support. Of course, there are procedures and policies to follow when it comes to student mental health, but ultimately, teacher’s are generally the closest adult relationship a student has at school and sometimes even at all.
This scenario puts teachers in a very vulnerable position, especially if you end up being the one that is not okay. You are going to break down as well and then the relationship with your student is compromised because they think you are an emotional wreck.
Looking after our mental health is more important than ever and we are lucky to have institutes like Youth Focus and Black Dog Institute, as well as Beyond Blue and Zero 2 Hero who all provide support for people struggling with mental illness. They are their to support students and teachers through challenges and adversity they may be facing, including mental illness. There details are at the bottom of this article.
In the modern education system, it is more important than ever that teacher’s care for their mental health and have support and resources to better manage their well being.
Smile Teachers was formed after my own teaching journey that included a very difficult battle with mental illness.
Almost two years ago I was in a very dark and lonely place, so much so I took a week off work to start to manage what had taken over me. Anxiety and depression. This was a combination of factors, but ultimately I just hadn’t been taking the time to be looking after my mental health. I was focused on physical fitness, teaching and social life with my time. I failed to cultivate my mind and rest, reflect and actually look after myself like I used to.
A journal entry of mine dated 9/11/2016
I had my third session with my psychologist today. I still wake up with anxiety and worry, but I am doing so much better. Stressing about work, how much I have to do and when I am going to catch up on it. I identified I need to check in with my breathing throughout the day and take time to focus on it. It will also be good to spend less time on my phone, this will be good for me but also my relationships with other people. I believe checking it is to self sooth and get those little bits of affection I have been crying out for. I know how important it is to work on myself and I am doing so well. I am training right, eating well, meditating, reflecting, working hard and focusing on myself. I need to just breath and trust everything will work out. Step back and breath.
I was a school teacher who had failed to care for his mental health and paid the ultimate price. I was really broken and couldn’t believe I had let it get to that point. The beauty of it was, it taught me the most valuable lesson of my own education so far. Look after yourself, because nobody else will.
“My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.”- Steve Goodier
Through that challenging and emotional time I really started to understand who I was as a person and found what I was truly passionate about, helping other people live their best life. Although, I will not be visiting that dark and lonely place again, I am grateful for the ghost ride because it scared the living shit out of me and made me readjust my path.
I found a mantra while picking myself up of the canvas that stated “slay your dragons”, that became my focus each day on my quest to becoming my own super hero and rebounding back to be better than ever.
I know there are many of you reading this that have experienced mental illness in one way or another. It could be stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, PTSD or schizophrenia just to name a few. It is also understandable that circumstances can create mental health concerns, the most important thing is being able to identify when you are not okay and need to seek support.
Today it is our mission at Smile Teachers to ensure that all teacher’s and schools are doing the very best they can to manage mental health and actually preventing any form of mental illness occuring for teacher’s and school staff.
Your role as an educator involves the direct relationship between you and your students, a relationship that is fundamental to your students wellbeing and emotional development.
We need teachers ands schools to accept that teachers often have challenges and their mental health is jeopardised, teachers need support and resources to access to manage these difficult situations. Early intervention is critical to ensuring a teacher doesn’t develop a mental illness.
What impact does a mentally ill teacher have ?
1- You have a teacher who is causing more damage to their own mental health
2- The students are also being indirectly impacted by this mental illness
3- Your colleagues are influenced by this mentally ill teacher
Whether, you can help it or not. The relationships in your life are jeopardised when you are not behaving the way you should.
Your thoughts, emotions and feelings can be a whole mixed bag when you are mentally ill.
How do we start taking better care of our mental health?
I think it is fantastic that so many schools are now appointing a Wellbeing Coordinator. I have spoken to many schools in the past week about how we can implement some Smile Teachers programs in their schools. Having a focus on better supporting teachers well being is a positive step in the right direction to creating happy and healthy schools.
People are listening to teachers and realising that having stressed, tired and emotional school teachers is not healthy for anybody. The past decade or more we have been so focused on physical health- exercising, diet, sleeping etc that many teachers forgot about their number one asset, their brain!
We need to start promoting the need to care for our minds more. It starts with developing strong, resilient and mindful teachers who are self-aware and have mental agility, and then begin rolling out student focused programs.
How do you expect a teacher who is suffering a mental illness to deliver engaging and empowering lessons?
The presenter from Youth Focus, used an excellent analogy that I love, he explained how we take so much time each day to brush and floss our teeth, removing all the nasty plaque so that it will rot our teeth and cause and oral hygiene issues. Everybody owns a tooth brush and ensures each day that this small section of our physical body is cared for.
He suggested that we all need a giant toothbrush for our brain. Every day we should be caring for our mind as well as our teeth. Taking time to remove the plaque that builds up. The negative thoughts and situations that build up and cause mental illness, such as stress and anxiety. Finding time every day to care for our minds is just as important as caring for our teeth.
You wouldn’t let our teeth go rotten, so why would you let your brain?
The amazing motivator Prince EA, will make you think twice about caring for your mind.
"Imagine if every school taught classes on mindfulness or how to deal with rejection, anxiety, depression or loneliness and imagine if these classes were mandatory like science and social studies. I don’t know when that's going to happen."
He ends this video with a simple mental health practice for you to try today!
Combine this with good sleep, exercise, nutrition, sunshine and good friends and as Prince EA says, “you might just float off the ground”.
The technique we want you to try today is called the Smiling Mindful Breath:
It combines three of the most powerful tools we have available to us; smiling, mindfulness and breathing.
Here is the three steps to having a smiling mind today:
1- Close and relax your eyes. Now SMILE! A full genuine smile for about 15 seconds. It works even better if you picture somebody you love smiling back at you.
2- Relax your smile and begin to take deep spacious breaths. Inhale as deeply as you can and exhale as much air out as you can.
3- Focus all of your attention on right now. On your breath. If thoughts start to pop up, that’s okay, just bring your attention back to your breath.
Do this each day for 1 minute and we guarantee you it will increase your positivity, creativity and overall well being. As you become more comfortable with this technique you can start to extend the time and even develop more mindfulness strategies. Check out the app Smiling Mind for more fun and easy to use mindfulness exercises.
It is essential to teaching well that you focus on caring for your mind. We want more teachers who are passionate about education, with positivity, energy and a benefit mindset. Teacher’s who will create positive environments in their school, build strong lasting relationships and willingly be able to respond to all students needs.
Caring for your mind is more important than NAPLAN, OLNA, ICAS or any other acronym for a test. Teaching requires your full attention and focus, you owe it to your students to be in the best frame of mind. Occasionally we get sick, tired, stressed or run down, but having the tools and strategies to firstly, acknowledge this and secondly, manage is imperative to your continual growth as a teacher.
Being a member of our Bali Teachers Retreat will empower you to take better care of your well being. A week in paradise to rest, relax and rejuvenate while developing your teaching is the perfect way to start the 2019 school year.
Our Mindset Manoeuvre Workshop is specifically designed to help you develop the mental agility to choose the right mindset for any situations. Choosing the right mindset can be the difference between a positive or negative outcome in so many ways.
Be Happy, Teach Well
See the below links for mental health support: