Tag Archives: support

A Mental Health Survey for Public School Educators

I have felt quite strongly that there is a great need for more mental health support for educators. When I started to research the topic, I was surprised to see that not only was the profession of teacher/educator not on any of the top ten lists for jobs with the highest suicide rate, but they weren’t even in the top twenty (CBS News: These Jobs Have the Highest Rates of Suicide).

I researched further and found several articles that described the mental health needs of educators in England. This only strengthened my belief that England is much further ahead in the world of advocacy around mental health. The recent Project Eighty Four is just one example in which Calm brought the topic of male suicide to the rooftops (quite literally)!

I decided to put together a survey of my own to prove a hypothesis that I had developed: I believe there is a very high number of educators who are struggling with their mental health. I believe that, particularly in the urban settings, many staff members are dealing with students who are going in and out of complex trauma on a daily basis. This includes the type of trauma in these young people’s lives that I cannot even begin to fathom. The fact that many of them have even made it to school is mind-boggling. Even students who are not going in and out of trauma are, often times these days, facing mental health challenges as seen by the data. In 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death for groups aged 10-14 and 15-24 (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml). Many of our students cannot get the medication they need because of various reasons, including a lack of insurance. Others are on month-long waiting lists to get a proper assessment or to find a bed in a facility because they are suicidal. Yet, with all of these challenges, we expect our students to show up to our schools, sit in their chairs quietly, and perform well on our standardized tests (or we could have detrimental repercussions from the federal government, such as the loss of public funds). There’s a shortage of school social workers and school counselors. Not only does this create an unrealistic student to social worker/school counselor ratio adding to their stress, but it also puts classroom teachers in the situation of having to ‘play’ counselor or social worker. Many times our school nurses are dealing more with psychosomatic symptoms than anything actually physical. Building administrators are faced with deciding on consequences for students who they know are facing incredible life challenges. They are also dealing with parents or guardians who are often times dealing with their own life struggles and mental health difficulties.

So, this brings me back to my survey. I created a survey to send to public school educators (staff of any positions in a public school system in the United States). Just prior to making my very brief, confidential survey of eight questions public, I bumped into another survey that had revolved around the mental health of educators: the 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey. This was a 30-question survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Badass Teachers Association (BATs). Some of the key findings that stood out to me from their survey results were:

  • Teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-rec-ommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night.
  • In response to the question “How often is work stressful?” nearly a quarter of respondents said “always”.
  • Educators and school staff find their work “always” or “often” stressful 61 percent of the time, significantly higher than workers in the general population, who report
    that work is “always” or “often”stressful only 30 percent of the time.
  • Educators are much more likely to be bullied, harassed and threatened at work than other workers.
    • 43 percent of respondents in the public survey group reported they had been bullied, harassed or threatened in the last year.
  • Teachers and school staff are significantly more stressed than other U.S. workers:
    • Respondents to the public survey reported an…average of 12 days in the last 30 that their mental health was not good
    • 21 percent of educators in the random sample characterized their mental health as not good for 11 or more days in the last 30, significantly higher than U.S. workers generally, less than 10 percent of whom reported poor mental health for 11 or more days in the past month, according to national data from 2014.
  • Educators’ physical health is more likely to suffer than other U.S. workers

My first thought was that since a survey had been recently completed, perhaps there is no need for my survey. However, after further reflection, I decided that the fact that the AFT and BATs had such a survey was acknowledgement that perhaps my theory had some validity. In addition to that, my survey is quite different. None of the eight questions that I ask were a part of their survey and my questions, I believe, are much more direct in getting to the mental health of educators.

In the end, once the need is made more apparent, my goal is to advocate for a much better system of support for educators. I believe that districts can do much more than simply hand a brochure to a struggling staff member and offer a few sessions of free, confidential counseling. United States public school educators are dealing with an incredible amount of stress in what is arguably one of the most important roles in our country. We can do better…we must do better… to support them!

If you are a public school educator in the United States, please consider taking this very brief (eight question), anonymous, completely confidential survey regarding Mental Health.

As always, comments to this post (and all others) are welcomed and encouraged! Thank you!

Supporting One with Depression

The night before I entered a three-week partial hospitalization program for a major depressive episode, I invited two close friends over to my house. I explained the situation to them and asked them for their support. When they asked me how they could support me, I had no idea.  When one is in the thick of depression, it’s difficult to know what is needed and it’s certainly difficult to reach out for support.  Throughout my depressive episode, my wife had the very same question: “How can I help?” She wanted to support me, yet also didn’t know how.

Knowing how to support someone who is suffering from depression can be very challenging.  My goal for this post is to help provide ideas for those who are attempting to support someone with depression.  The support for people may look very different, particularly depending on the relationship one has with the person dealing with depression.  For that reason, I have separated  my suggestions into three categories based upon the relationship; 1) Spouse or family member, 2) Close friend, or 3) Acquaintance. While there may be some overlap amongst the three categories, there are also some significant differences.

Spouse or Family Member:  When supporting a spouse or family member, it is incredibly important to practice patience. (Note that from this point on, when I use the word, “spouse”, it is to include “or family member”).  Your spouse will most likely seem quite different in many ways while depressed compared to when they are mentally healthy. He/she may seem sad or emotionless.  He/she may not be able to do simple tasks around the house that they had normally done. In my case, I found myself sitting on the couch,  resorting to my bedroom, or following my wife around the house not knowing what I should be doing.  Practicing patience, understanding, and being empathetic will go a long way.

Offer to join your spouse for some of their appointments. My wife joined me for several appointments with my psychologist, hoping to gain some insights into what was going on with me and to learn how she might be able to support me. In addition, my wife and sister joined me for at least one of my psychiatrist appointments, particularly when I knew I was going to need their support. My wife was also at my side while at the intake meeting for the partial hospitalization program that I entered. Having her with me was hugely beneficial. She supported me morally and emotionally, as well as providing the support team with accurate answers to the questions that we had to field. Being severely depressed impacted my cognition and memory, so her support was indispensable.

Gently “push” your spouse to get exercise. I remember one bitter cold evening, my wife suggested that I go for a walk around the block. It was highly invigorating (relative to the major depression). Fresh air and exercise are both beneficial in overcoming depression. It may be nice to offer to join the person for a walk.  Understand that exercising, or even the idea of exercising, may feel like a massive chore for someone who is depressed, so there is a fine line in how much to push this piece. Consider asking him/her to walk to the store for an errand, if it’s not too far.  Asking to support with some of the chores around the house may be another way to get your spouse off of the couch or out of the bed.

Ask if there is anything you can do to support your spouse. Simply asking shows that you care and opens the door to a conversation. Do not be offended if the person is not very conversational. Engaging in conversations can be very challenging when depressed.

Provide resources for your spouse. If he/she is not yet a part of one, seek out support groups for him/her. If they are not seeing a psychologist, help him/her seek on out. Ask your spouse if it would be alright if you asked your friends or family members for a referral to a psychologist.

Close Friend:  There are several ways to support a close friend who is going through a challenging time of depression.  The first thing is to make sure to have the conversation. If you are concerned that a friend may have depression, ask the question. Let him/her know that you are concerned and worried.  It is really easy to isolate oneself when dealing with depression.  There’s a good chance that your friend, particularly in the case of males, may be masking his/her depression and may not be the one to broach the topic. Ask the question.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Your friend may not have an answer, but there is a chance that they do know and are able to articulate this for you. It is well worth asking.  Ask if he/she has the resources to support in their recovery. If not, offering to find resources would be a great way to help.

Reach out to your friend. Ask if he/she would mind if you check-in with him/her weekly or so. Ask him/her what the best way to reach out would be. In many cases, simply sending a text once a week or so to ask how he/she is doing is enough. Perhaps they prefer a phone call or an email. In any case, many people who are dealing with depression tend to isolate themselves and avoid friends. It’s important to take the initiative to reach out to your struggling friend.

Invite your friend out.  Again, this is a great way to prevent a friend from remaining inside and isolating him/herself.  It is not wise to drink alcohol when depressed (as alcohol is a depressant), so consider inviting your friend out for coffee, breakfast, or a lunch. Perhaps you could invite your friend to a movie.  One to one would most likely be the best scenario for any of these outings, as people who are depressed often do not want to be with a large group of people.  Consider inviting your friend to join you in an outdoor activity or a walk. This would provide fresh air and a bit of exercise. If you know a hobby or something that your friend typically would enjoy doing, offer that suggestion. I was really able to enjoy myself with a friend who invited me down to the river on a brisk winter day to take some pictures, as he knew that we both enjoy photography. He had to twist my arm gently, but this was a really positive day for me in the midst of my depression.  You may also consider having your friend over to your house to watch a movie or a favorite TV show.

If your friend is married, consider checking in with his/her spouse to see if there is any support the family may need.  Many times, when someone is ill with cancer or other serious illnesses, friends and neighbors create a rotation for bringing over a meal for the family. This rarely happens for one suffering from a mental illness.

Acquaintance: Just as with a good friend, if you’re concerned that an acquaintance may be suffering from depression, it’s worth asking the question. Be sure to ask in private and to let him/her know that you are asking because you are concerned.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Ask if he/she needs some resources and, if possible, offer to seek out resources for him/her.

Ask if you could reach out once in a while to support him/her. As mentioned above, a friendly text message to check-in to see how the person is doing weekly or so may be very supportive.

Encourage him/her to reach out to other trusted and loved ones.  Sometimes people resist reaching out for support.  Encouraging and supporting one in doing so could be very helpful.

In all of the cases, it is important to remember that depression is an illness, just as cancer or any other serious disease is an illness. Understand that it is not the person’s fault for being depressed, just as it is not the fault of anyone who has battled cancer, or again, any other serious illness. The person most likely does not want to be depressed and did not ask for it. He or she is not lazy, but ill.  Educate yourself on depression so that you can have a better understanding of what a person with depression may be experiencing.  Empathy and patience will go a long way! Be compassionate.  Offer support.

(Note: I feel obligated to mention that if you feel that someone is actually considering suicide, ask them the question directly. There is a false assumption held by some people that mentioning suicide will give the person an idea that they never had. This is not the case and has been shown by research. Asking the question will open up this dialogue that the person may never be able to discuss if not asked. If they actually have a plan, seek resources with the person immediately and call 911, if necessary.)

(Another Note: As always, comments to this post, or any of my other posts, are highly encouraged and would be greatly appreciated)

Spouses Need Support, Too!

My major depressive episode impacted my life and the life of my family anywhere from four to six months. It’s hard to say exactly when it began and when exactly it ended. However, I would say that, in my case, my wife kept our family together for at least four months (and likely more). My depression was quite debilitating. In the beginning, I did the best I could to mask my depression, continue working, and live as “normally” as I could.  However, after “holding it together” through the work day (an assistant principal in a public elementary school) managing the best I could to engage with my four children, I’d often breakdown crying to my wife in the evenings.  As my depression worsened, I took time off from work.  First nine days. As they say, “Hind sight is 20/20” and I would say that taking nine, unstructured days off from work was about the worst thing I could have done.  In the evenings, I would create small tasks to accomplish the next day. These tasks would include things like doing a load of laundry or cleaning a bathroom.  I could never get these tasks accomplished. I wanted to sleep all day, yet couldn’t sleep at all. I’d spend hours in my bed trying to nap, unable to sleep, yet find that being closed in the bedroom, lying in bed became a safe haven. I didn’t have to worry about my behaviors or lack of engagement with my wife or kids. After returning to work for a short bit, I had reoccurring thoughts of suicide. Once my thoughts became more frequent throughout the day and my general thoughts of not wanting to be alive turned to an actual plan of suicide, I decided I needed more help. I took three more weeks off of work and entered a partial hospitalization program.

Still struggling at home, I would find myself literally following my wife around the house as she’d do the dishes, cook dinner, or clean. Other times, I’d sit quietly on the couch, many times quietly lying down on the couch trying once again to sleep. My wife never woke me up in the middle of the night, even though we had four kids, two of whom were three years old at the time and would often wake us in the middle of the night. Because I shared my suicidal thoughts with my wife, she was worried to leave me home alone in the house and worried about me if I were to leave the house. I can’t imagine how stressful this must have been for her.  I would imagine that my feelings of being an incompetent father contributed to my suicidal thoughts. I now understand the incredibly ugly and fierce power of feeling a burden to others. I understand how those who have said, “I’d never take my life because of my children” have taken their lives. The debilitating nature of depression, the feeling of being a burden, the invisible pain…it is all so very overwhelming.  It takes over.  It’s pervasive.  I remember saying to my wife one night, “You’ll be okay, right, you and the kids…if I kill myself.”  I cannot even believe, at this point, that I even said such a thing to my wife. I adore her and my four kids and cannot even fathom the idea of taking my own life.  Even with this love of my family and kids…even knowing how devastating it would have been to them…I still planned to take my life. That’s the ugly nature and power of depression.

Less than two days after I completed my three-weeks at the partial hospitalization program and began to work again, my wife came down with a very bad case of strep throat and a serious virus in her eye. She spent three days recovering on the couch when typically nothing takes her down.  Luckily, since I was still recovering, her parents happened to be in town and helped us get through those days. I am sure that my wife’s body had not allowed herself to get sick throughout my depression and it all hit her at once.

I knew that what I had put my wife through must have been so incredibly difficult. I asked her to see a therapist so that she would have an outlet to share her thoughts, feelings, and experience. I knew that she must be experiencing PTSD on some level. I also told her (while I was attending the partial hospitalization program) that she could share her experience (and my experience) with any of her friends so that they could help support her.  My wife took me up on both offers. She got the name of a therapist who she really enjoyed seeing.

My wife supported me through the most difficult time of my life. A time that I feel lucky I made it through. I cannot imagine the amount of trauma and pain I put her through. The experience has helped me learn that spouses of those who go through depression (and I would imagine other mental illnesses) also need support. I know there are support groups, at least in larger cities, that offer support for spouses.  I would highly recommend the support groups. I have another post on the Power of Support Groups, as well as The Importance of a Support Team.

As always, I encourage thoughts and comments to this (and all) of my Blog posts.  Thank you.

The Importance of a Support Team

The importance of building your own support team to maintain your mental health cannot be understated.  This is what I would consider to be one of the prongs of a multi-pronged system one creates to support their own mental health. The support team may look different for different people.

Before I checked myself into a partial hospitalization program due to my major depression, I invited two of my best friends to my house.  One of them knew that I had been suffering from depression and the other one had no idea.  I sat down with them at my kitchen table and shared with them my plan to take time off from work and enter a rehab program for my depression.  I asked for their help and support.  They had no idea how to support me.  In my state of mind, I had no idea what I needed either.  I asked them to send me text messages now and then and to invite me out for coffee or some other activity to get me out of the house.

I had been sharing my depression all along with my wife, my sister, and my brother and knew that they were clearly people who I could trust and count on in times of support. I had at least one or two uncontrollable crying bouts with my siblings and many with my wife.  They were understanding, compassionate, and supportive. I was lucky to have them all.

I made sure that I had a psychologist and a psychiatrist who I trust and can meet with at any time.  I haven’t seen a therapist for over a year, but I still know that I have one whom I trust and could call at any time in order to schedule an appointment.

Finally, a couple of days prior to entering the program, I attended my first every support group.  It was a group for men with depression and/or anxiety.  I broke down and cried for most of my first two hours with these men, as I shared my story and my plan.  They were a group with which I felt an immediate connection.  I haven’t had to deal with depression for two years, yet I continue to meet with this group of men twice a month.

As I mentioned earlier, everybody’s support team is going to look different.  Some people may rely on friends, mental health workers, and a religious leader.  Others may rely on family, relatives, and a trusted neighbor.  The point is to have people who you trust and can reach out to in times of need.

Please feel free to comment on this post, as well as any of my other posts. Thank you.