When the phone rings or I get an email from a school community requesting me to come and speak to students about teen mental health awareness or suicide prevention, I get excited. For more than two decades, I’ve been speaking in the educational market – talking to teens about leadership, character, self-esteem, mental health and suicide prevention – and having fun living my purpose and passion. I have the greatest job in the world. I am a mental health speaker who specializes in school communities.
Yes, I also speak at mental health conferences for adults, but I primarily work in school communities in a concerted effort to address the state of our youth and their mental well-being. This is a huge issue. It’s not good and we should be concerned about it. But I have another concern that should be of high priority too.
The mental well-being of school staff is the elephant in the room and needs to be attended to. I am serious about this – and this includes teachers, administrators, counselors and even school psychologists.
How do I know?
I know because I’m boots-on-the-ground whenever I work in these school communities, and I get to know many of these people when I am hired to come in. Many staff members are struggling. Some know that they are. Others might be in denial. But the fact is that they need help.
I stay in touch with former teachers, counselors, administrators, school psychologists and therapists who no longer work in education because of the toll it took on them. By not setting boundaries, some of these wonderful people personalized the pain of others and took it home with them. This is called secondhand trauma. Its effects can be debilitating.
Perhaps you have a staff member who is not admitting that they are overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. Maybe this person is clearly having trouble handling the expectations placed on them. Instead of managing their self-care, setting boundaries or talking about what’s bothering them, they might be avoiding these things altogether. You would be surprised at how many people prefer to avoid these potentially harmful issues. Living in denial is no place to be.
We absolutely need to be taking care of our staff. We need to take care of each other.
Almost every time I come into a school community, I meet people who share their stories with me. Maybe it’s because I am a stranger and it feels safer that way. Sometimes they open up about someone in their family who is struggling. Many times, somebody will follow me to my car when I’m leaving. They might tell me their story or ask how I am able to live so effectively with my mental health issues.
I am diagnosed with PTSD, major depression and bipolar 2 disorder.
I am always glad when somebody who is struggling asks me about how they can take that first step toward getting the help they need.
That first step is simply this:
We have to get comfortable talking and asking for help. It’s OK to not be OK, but it isn’t OK if you don’t do anything about it. If we don’t talk it out, we will act it out. By talking to someone – hopefully a mental health professional – you will feel less anxious and more at ease. Talking will give you the coping skills and tools you need to solve your problems and begin to overcome your struggles.
Below, I have posted a message from a dear friend who once hired me to speak at their school. It was necessary for this person to take time off to take care of self.
This is very common in today’s educators. I see it every day. I have many counselors and school psychologists that have had to leave education because of their exposure to secondhand trauma. I work with quite a few of them personally.
To all my educator friends: You can have empathy and compassion, but you can’t carry the darkness or the burden of our students. Self-care is about you taking care of yourself. It’s not selfish. Don’t ignore the red flags of your well-being. You matter. Our students need you.
A School Administrator and Mental Illness
“Good morning, my Friend.
Just watched this morning’s video and am now crying in a coffee shop. Good tears, though, because you gave a message I needed to hear this morning. I am working on acceptance every single day…super hard for me. We are now med-twins. I have been diagnosed with “moderate recurrent major depression.” Have been working with a wonderful therapist, as you know, but my doctor finally said, “Enough is enough. Two choices…stop resisting and try meds, or I admit you somewhere.” He plays hard ball and I love him for it. I started Wellbutrin about 6 weeks ago, and therapy was upped to twice a week through the worst of it. I am finally beginning to emerge from the fog, though I have a lot more work to do. I now realize that I’ve lived with depression and anxiety forEVER…. undiagnosed, unacknowledged, and suppressed. I think that my job at school as AP just brought it out…working with kids from trauma, dealing with depression, suicide, drug abuse, etc., overloaded my system and enhanced my negative coping methods (denial denial denial, work harder harder harder, feel responsible to fix all the unfixable things) I crumbled. In therapy, I’m digging up allllllll the shit. Good times! And I’m getting better, I *think*. (Some days I’m not sure, but am told that is part of the process.) You are an inspiration to me every single day. I tell myself all the time, “Jeff does it, so can I.” I believe God sent you to me before I knew I needed you. I had no idea at the time…I brought you in for my kids, but now I need you for me. Funny how life works.
Thinking a lot about how to use this experience to help others someday when I’m stronger and ready. Was thinking how cool it would be to join you on the road…talking to teachers and staff while you address the kids. Our educators are hurting and many of them don’t know how deeply their own wounds run. (I am the perfect example of that…thought it was burnout. Little did I know it wasn’t that simple.)
Anyway…really just wanted to say thank you for continuing to uplift and encourage with strength and courage and vulnerability. Love you! Stay well, and continue to treat yourself with kindness, patience, and compassion. (And good luck with the med shift…I have found the Wellbutrin has given me the energy boost I needed to restart self-care. Hope it works well for you.) ”~Private for Protection