Talking to anyone about your mental health isn't easy. Talking to parents, doctors, friends and teachers can seem virtually impossible for those of us caught in the mercy of any mental illness and are still in education. School/ college or Uni are awful at the best of times. Constant pressure, exam stress and trying to fit it. Struggling with a mental illness on top of all of that can make you feel like a ticking time bomb.
There's an infinite number of reasons why students choose not to talk to their teachers about their mental health. Fear of rejection, fear of being laughed at and not knowing if they will actually understand what you’re going through or if they will just brush it off as a simple phase or 'something every teenager goes through'. These are just a few of the many reasons why so many young people choose to stay silent in school and not get the support they need.
Which consequently puts their grades and studies in jeopardy. If you suffer from a mental illness, it's not your fault. It's an illness, just like having a broken leg. You wouldn't be worried about getting extra support with a broken leg at school, such as being able to leave a lesson earlier. So why do so many students, keep their mental health struggles to themselves? Because of the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness of course.
Mental illness is portrayed as a sign of weakness, and no one wants to appear weak. However, contrary to what most people think, reaching out for help for your mental illness is one of the strongest and bravest things you can do. No one should be ashamed of their mental illness to the point where it stops them getting the help they need and achieving their full potential. Teachers are (from my experience) some of the most understanding people, so I thought I would share a couple of tips for getting help from them if you are still in education.
#1 Find your personal tutor and tell them right from the start
In school, college and university, you should have a personal tutor. Depending on how your school, college, etc. works you may see them a lot for tutor sessions or you may not. However, if you are suffering from any mental illness and it is having an impact on your studies, it is imperative you find out who your personal tutor is and arrange to meet them, to talk about it.
I did this, as soon as I started at college, and honestly, it’s one of the best things I could have done. Don’t wait until the point where you are not going to lessons and dreading going in every day, which is resulting in you not completing your homework to the deadline and your tutor has to chase you, having a moan. Make them aware from the start, so they ease off a bit and don’t assume you are not putting in 100% when actually you are struggling with a crippling mental illness.
#2 Make sure you and your teachers arrange some special agreements
At my college, by letting my tutor know, he was happy to let all my teachers know about my OCD for me, which was very helpful and saved me a lot of time. However, if this can’t be done, it is important to tell your teachers yourself. Email may be easier if you are particularly nervous about telling them. You don’t have to go into any great depths, just explain your situation and how it is affecting your studies. They should understand.
At this point, it may be advisable to agree on some special agreements. For example, for me, if I need to leave a lesson half way through or can’t make it to a lesson because of a reason relating to my OCD, I’m allowed to work elsewhere and have any work that I missed sent to me, so I don’t fall behind. This is incredibly important, as means, I am keeping on top of my work despite my OCD, making it very hard. If you struggle with anxiety special exam arrangements should be made. There is a lot they can do so it is important you get the support you deserve.#3 Be as honest as possible
If you do have to leave a lesson half way through or you're not completing your homework to the deadline because of your mental illness, it is important, to be honest with your teacher which I know can be very hard. By being honest, it will help your teachers understand what you are going through.
If they know, they can help you, support you and make sure that you are not put in a situation which could make your mental health worse, if it can be avoided. It is within teachers best interests to make sure you are comfortable and are getting the support you need to achieve academically. Honesty is the key to making sure this happens.
#4 Take a friend with you if it makes you more comfortable
If you have someone who knows about your OCD and you are happy to take them along with you to tell your teachers/ personal tutor, do it! I know, this is not going to be for everyone. Whenever I talk to my tutor about my mental health, I always go alone but if you are nervous, having someone there to support you, talk for you if you get upset and back you up, if the teacher isn’t as supportive as you would like, can really help. If you get emotional, it may be hard to remember what they said, so having a friend with you, can help you reflect on what your teacher said. Two heads are better than one. Sometimes three heads are better than two. Having a friend there, who knows you a lot more than your teacher can be very valuable when coming up with a contingency plan for you and your mental health.
#5 Email may be easier if you are very nervous
It can be hard to find the courage to talk to your teachers about your mental health. If you don’t know what to say or worry you will get tongue tied, it may be easier to send an email. If you worry that you will get very emotional and will find it hard to get your point across, writing it all down in words may be a lot easier. The downside to emailing is that it may take a while for them to respond and sometimes, they might not even respond at all.
But you shouldn’t let this put you off. If the thought of talking to the teacher terrifies you, it is best to email. It’s likely that the teacher will want to see you in person, but at least if they do, they have an understanding of what you are there for, which means that they can lead the conversation and you don’t have to.
Talking to teachers about your mental health is never easy. But you deserve the best. You deserve support from your teachers, no matter what stage of education you are in.
If you don’t feel like you are being supported, it’s important to keep trying. Find other people to talk to, heads of department, for example. All schools, colleges and universities, should operate a counselling service, try to find out more about yours as well as counselling services in your local area, if you are still not feeling supported or that not enough is being done to help you.
Do not give up hope.
Thanks for reading, as always X