How Much Information is Too Much Information?

Now this question could apply to bloggers as well as teachers.  I constantly see posts about the question of ‘over-sharing’ on blogs.  However I’m not writing about that on this occasion.

Instead this post is about teaching.  It’s about how much of yourself a teacher should ‘give’ to his or her class.  It’s specifically about the question of how open teachers should be with their students about their own mental health.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as more and more people ask me about mindfulness and my commitment to it.

I say ‘people come to mindfulness for different reasons’.  I am vague about my own experiences.  I explain that some of the people I teach mindfulness to are curious about it.  Others know it may help them with their focus and concentration.  Others know it could be just what they’re looking for in terms of helping their performance on the sports field, in the exam hall, in the workplace or in the dance show or drama production.

And then there are the ones who come to it because they know it is recommended for people who have a tendency to suffer from anxiety and/or low mood.  I often feel a special affinity with these individuals – especially young people.  I see my teenage self in them. I  want to help them build their resilience and robustness; to possibly prevent them needing to seek professional help later in their lives.

Yet I am beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable about ‘dodging’ this question.  We talk about ending the stigma surrounding mental health in schools and I am very supportive of the #timetotalk campaign having written a post for them in the past.  Yet, as teachers, we rarely  bring our own personal experiences to the conversation.  Is this right?

You see I’ve always been someone who fully believes we should ‘model’ behaviour if we want to see it from the younger generation.  Politeness, calmness, gratitude, a growth mindset.  I try to demonstrate all of these in my classroom.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t always succeed, but I try my hardest to act and behave the way I want the students to.

So does it follow that if I want to see greater openness about mental health issues from my students then I should be more open too?

When I have mentioned this to other teachers, the answer has been a resounding ‘no’.  They conclude that yes, we should talk about mental health in general terms.  But just as we don’t share too many details about our personal lives with our students, then the argument goes that we shouldn’t share too much about our mental health either.  In fact many teachers won’t even share details about their mental health with their school leadership team, let alone the students.  The saddening statistics from an ATL survey three years ago were that:

  • Nearly seven in 10 (68%) of school and college staff choose to hide mental health issues from employers
  • Almost half (45%) didn’t disclose hidden health issues because of worry about managers’ reactions

And I don’t believe much has changed.  According to the anecdotal evidence from this Guardian article, and the statistics above, teachers aren’t going to be making a video like the incredibly inspiring ‘This is Me’ from the Bank of England anytime soon.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that teachers shout their life stories from the rooftops.  I certainly wouldn’t want a colleague putting themselves in a situation where they may feel vulnerable.

However, if someone is feeling robust enough to share how they have previously overcome mental health issues then is this not inspiring to students?

Or is this overstepping the professional boundary?

I am still unsure.  Having searched for advice, there seems to be very little.

So for now I will be normalising struggles with mental illness another way.  I will be sharing stories like the ones below.  Stories of famous people who have been open about their mental health problems and weren’t held back in their careers and lives.

People like:

  • Adele who spoke candidly to Vanity Fair in October 2016 about her postnatal depression.
  • US President Abraham Lincoln  who’s ‘melancholy’, according to this article  was public knowledge in the 1860s. The biographer states that “Lincoln’s depression may have helped him politically more than it hurt him. It gained him sympathy and drew people toward him.”

Lincoln quote.png

  • Kristen Bell who discussed her depression and anxiety frankly for the first time last year (see here).
  • J K Rowling who has spoken regularly about her bouts of depression since 2008.

Rowling quote

  • Freddie Flintoff who revealed he suffers from depression on an Australian reality TV show in 2015.  As reported here, he said:  “It’s hard to explain, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders – fear, guilt, all sorts – for no apparent reason.”
  • Alastair Campbell who, as described here  has always been open about his mental illness.  Alastair Campbell quote

If you are a teacher I’d be really interested to know your thoughts.  How should people in education be trying to tackle the stigma of mental health?

Or, are you are a parent of a child at secondary school?   How would you like the topic of mental health to be approached?

Thank you for reading.

signature

One Messy Mama
Petite Pudding
Tammymum

 

Diary of an imperfect mum

 

25 thoughts on “How Much Information is Too Much Information?

  1. Really interesting post. People in the public eye who talk about mental health is so important when it comes to reducing stigma. I applaud Chrissy Teigen (major girl crush on her) for speaking so candidly about her PND this week. It makes others realise they’re not on their own, in what is a very isolating illness. Thanks for sharing with #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is an interesting question. I am completely open about all aspects of my health at work – but I’m not a teacher or in a position of authority over young people. What teachers should do and say is far more hotly contested. I think people should be allowed to share whatever they feel comfortable sharing. However, in this post you have found an excellent way around this issue, by using famous people. This could be a fantastic resource for anyone searching to talk about mental health with a young person. Thanks for linking up to #eatsleepblogrt. Hope you can join again next week. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a tough one and I don’t have an answer either way. I definitely think we need to talk more openly about mental health, but my parents both work in secondary schools where there are certain children who will take advantage of any situation they can and finding a chink in your armour they would try to use it against you. That being said, they are a minority and the openness could potentially help more children. I think using examples of famous people is a great idea though x
    #FamilyFun

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an interesting post. I’m not a teacher but I know that as a parent I would strongly like mental health addressed and discussed in schools. I know that there is much more support in schools these days with counsellors, listening therapists but not always the ones that really need it are brave enough to go and seek the help – this needs to be addressed – I’m not sure how but I guess the stigma needs to be eradicated so that children feel it’s OK to seek help at school. Thank you for sharing such a great post #FamilyFun

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this post. I am a teacher. Have I disclosed that I suffered from PND to my new boss no! Why not? many reasons but mainly fear & that it was 9 years ago. Would I reveal it to the kids definitely no! But I Diary of an imperfect mum believe that it is essential that we give children the skills to discuss their emotional health and wellbeing. #FamilyFun

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Difficult one because it needs to be talked about but at what expense. In an honest open conversation I think some students could handle it but not everyone is willing to are they. Shared on FB because I know a few teachers who may be interested xx. ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The stigma in our culture is amazing. Those that seek help for mental health issues are amongst the strongest of us all, as that means they want to beat it, to get help and solve for what it is that makes them feel like they do. I only recently became vocal about a few decades of eating disorder and depression. Letting it out reduces the sting, let alone the release for ones self. Bravo for this… and yes, it is a sticky situ at times. Oy… #ablogginggoodtime xo

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My daughter has a teacher who is obviously very happy to share details of her life with her students. My daughter, aged 13, really engages with her, but I have to say, I find myself as a parent questioning whether the teacher is being too familiar with her students. This is on family related issues, not even mental health, which I would say is even more personal, as it leaves the person opening up so incredibly vulnerable. Say, for example, you were to be honest about very personal experiences and it really resonated with a student. They may then feel they have a close attachment to you and try to get closer in order to use you as an emotional crutch. They may then be reluctant to talk to school counselors, preferring your support instead. I think that teachers need to be extremely careful and guarded. I can understand your dilemma completely, but emotional attachment happens so easily and is so difficult to retract. This is a really interesting post and certainly food for thought. Alison x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. See, I’m not fussed about mines but my hubby had some issues in the past and he prefers not to talk about it. Not because he’s ashamed or something, it just brings back bad memories which he prefers not to be reminded.
    So I fully understand, that not everyone is comfortable with talking about mental health issues and I can accept this.
    Problem is, teachers are hiding these problems from the employer in fear of loosing their job and this is a major problem. Everyone should be able live without hiding a part of themselves. #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a teacher I would not disclose any mental health issues with students. Unfortunately we are not student’s friends. We ate not their buddies. We are there to support and teach them. Yes, they could learn from our weaknesses and stifles bit we should be there for them and if we get too close and personal we are in danger of overstepping there professional line and putting ourselves in jeopardy. That says, we can always refer to a ‘friend’ out explain our knowledge without directly disclosing our personal lives. It’s a shame it has to be like this, but in today’s society it really does. #familyfunlinky

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is a difficult one. Although I agree with the statement that we are not our students friends. I also think that if you are teaching high school/college kids, an element of honesty and understanding is OK. Not sharing your entire story but maybe examples of how you have dealt with difficult times and how you managed your situations in the past, might actually be helpful. As you said above, even using the example of a friend. #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jacqui. Yes, this is where I am coming from. As previously stated teachers are definitely NOT trying to be students friends and if they are in the throes of a mental health episode then that is not appropriate to comment on. However, if there is an example of mental health problems being overcome in their family then this may be (with the right students) something to be touched upon in a professional setting. Like I say ‘may be’…. I certainly have my reservations but then that’s what this post is trying to explore. And I certainly feel there are some teachers who may feel hypocritical banging on about ending the stigma of mental health issues and then doing the whole ‘nothing to see here’ thing…..I have found the diverse comments on here and on twitter very interesting. Definitely there is no consensus. Thanks for thinking about this. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is really interesting and I think the celeb examples are a good idea. If I was a teacher I’d be worried over sharing might just make my life harder if someone used it against me… but, I’m all for honesty. It’s a tough one! xx #ablogginggoodtime

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s