Monday, May 25, 2009

Giving a gift....

As I have mentioned, I am a teacher. I am currently teaching one of my year groups about mental health, with the focus being on depression. We teach this unit of work every year and, regardless of my personal experience, I think it is such an important issue to address. It is predicted that mental illness and depression in particular, will become our largest health concern over the next decade. So it is vital that young people are educated about what mental illness is, where to get help, and how to promote positive mental health.

One of the hardest things to overcome is the stigma surrounding mental illness and the perception that it is something that affects "someone else". Initially when I started teaching this unit of work this time around, I wasn't going to share my personal story with my students. I figured that since my passion and understanding of the issue comes across well enough anyway, it wouldn't be necessary. But a little voice in the back of my head kept nagging at me telling me that if I didn't share my story with these students, I was failing in what I have proclaimed to be my new duty in life and I would miss a prime opportunity. (If I am completely honest the thing that was holding me back was the fear of being judged by the girls or have them think differently of me).

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I did share my story with the girls and I am so glad that I did. Yes it was nerve wracking and scary and yes, the girls were quite surprised to hear it. But very quickly it became quite clear that my exposing myself was in a sense a gift to them. At some stage down the track, they or someone close to them will experience a mental illness (a sad, but very real fact). And when that happens, hopefully my story will pop straight into their heads - and they will know that its ok to ask for help, that they are not alone in what is happening and that no matter how bad things may seem there is hope to get through it. The students were able to gain a much greater understanding of the issue by hearing about it from someone who has experienced it first hand. What was also a clear sign to me that I had done the right thing was when two students came up to me to talk about their own mothers' experience of post natal depression. I could sense the relief from them that they finally could speak to someone about it and that since I had also experienced the same thing, there wasn't something 'wrong' with their mothers. That to me was priceless........

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