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Sunday 20 October 2019
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Safeguarding our mental health


ON FRIDAY, the teachers of Tobago engaged in some in-depth discussions on the issue of mental health and its impact on the profession. There is no doubt that teachers are required to function under a significant amount of stress owing to the wide range of roles they undertake on behalf of their charges.

Curriculum delivery represents a small aspect of the job of the teacher. The complexity of the task is further compounded by the lack of resources and support personnel and very often teachers are forced to improvise in order to ensure the children’s myriad social and emotional needs are attended to, at least at some basic level.

The unfortunate consequence of this labour of love is the toll it takes on the very teachers’ mental and emotional well-being. If teachers are not careful, they can feel overwhelmed by the demands of the job and this feeling often leads to social and emotional dysfunction.

The new focus on occupational safety and health has caused the spotlight to be shone on the emotional well-being of workers and with respect to teachers this could not have come too soon. The role of the teacher has been redefined to compensate for the abdication of responsibilities of the many significant people in the lives of children.

The key is to ensure that one is in tune with one’s emotional quotient and therefore knowing one’s limitations. Trying to play superhero will verily result in undue stress being placed on oneself and if this is not carefully managed it can result in the teacher becoming overcome with emotional pressure. Thankfully, TTUTA has been able to secure an employee assistance programme via the Ministry of Education. Teachers would do well to make maximum use of this service as a means of safeguarding their emotional well-being.

This service is free of charge and highly confidential. There is no referral process and the service can be accessed anytime. The service is also available to one’s family members if it is determined that they play a significant role in the creation and resolution of the problem.

Unfortunately, the fear of stigmatisation by people seeking such services remains a very real one and often prevents many from accessing the service. As a society we have a propensity to label people as mad or crazy once they begin to show symptoms of emotional and social dysfunction.

We have and continue to be ignorant of the fact that mental disorders are illnesses that can be cured with the right battery of treatment. Anyone can suffer from mental health disorders if not careful. It is therefore unsurprising that teachers, given the onerous demands of the vocation, coupled with the stresses of family and everyday life, must develop the capacity to manage these competing interests, while ensuring that one does not feel overwhelmed or consumed by the task.

The assistance of co-workers and family members in detecting signs of “abnormal” or “irrational” behaviour in people is also critical. In this way people can be made aware of any changes to their behaviour patterns.

School leaders must also play a critical role in monitoring the mental well-being of teachers by being empathetic and focused on the individual. They must, as far as possible, strive to create a school atmosphere that is respectful, supportive and non-judgmental.

Teachers will do well to know and accept who they are, with limitations and be cognisant of the fact that our beliefs, backgrounds, culture, religion, sexuality and experience all contribute to understanding who we are. They must also be prepared to share their feelings with trusted colleagues, friends or family members, rather than feel isolated and alone.

It is vitally important that teachers enjoy what they do. This to a large extent will assist in the maintenance of mental and emotional balance. Keeping that right balance between personal and professional life is also critically important, with no effort being spared to invest time on oneself.

The range of mental health ailments include bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, self-harm, anxiety disorder and substance abuse. The signs and symptoms of each condition may vary and teachers would do well to educate themselves about these.

Unfortunately, mental disorders are more common than we would care to acknowledge. They have no boundaries of race, gender, religion or geography and have a tendency to slowly creep up on people. Indeed, the deterioration takes place over a prolonged period of time and when detected the treatment process is just as prolonged.

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