Yesterday I was going about my day as per usual (on the continual hunt for a Gregg's Vegan sausage roll - found two) and I was in a pretty good mood. I have a number of exciting work projects, I feel mostly alright at home and I have taken up a new hobby which I have managed to stick to. Despite all this, there is always something creeping around, described by many as the “black dog”. That creeping feeling of anxiety. The problem with the “black dog” is that he can quite suddenly manifest into a monster without much warning. Yesterday it hit me out of nowhere (as always) that depression had come to call. And what I have learnt to do over the years is to wait it out.
Throughout my entire life, I have suffered with horrible depression and hyper-vigilant anxiety. I have infuriated friends, struggled with certain jobs, and lost good health to it. You would probably not see it if you met me (unless you are a skilled psychotherapist/psychologist). I laugh a lot, chatter endlessly, joke and I can mostly present myself as a fully functioning human (although I did get trapped in between two lift doors yesterday in front of someone important and whom I was trying to impress- nay bother). But it has taken me until the age of 34 to work out what works for me. Interestingly everyone I speak to has quite different strategies for dealing with depression which shows the importance of applying differentiation across our entire lifespan, not just in EYFS planning ha, and to consider individualised reasonable adjustments.
I wouldn’t define my anxiety/depression as work-related but If I look back, the most difficult period of managing my depression was when I was an early year’s teacher. Ten-hour shifts and at a time when well-being wasn’t a thing, I really struggled. I didn’t have the option to just go home and wait it out or work in a way where I could feel less vulnerable. It was like constant exposure at times. And this is the thing, depression is a very different beast to anxiety. Deep breathing, supervisions or staff bonding might ease anxiety, but depression can’t really be remedied by an inspirational quote or by being told to ‘cheer up misery-arse’ (I used to get that a lot).
I recently picked up ‘When Sadness Comes to Call’ by Eva Eland and it is probably better than any self-help book I have ever read because it validates that sometimes feelings come to call and we, both children and adults have to learn to sit with them, to wait it out. That doesn’t mean to say, stop living, I am always putting one foot in front of the other but there is a power in just ‘sitting together and being quiet for a while’. Because that is the joy of emotions, each is transient and co-existing. Although some of the more difficult emotions can last bloody ages.
When I meet with early years teachers, especially those who I have built a bond with, despite work-related stress, they often talk about a much bigger context to the state of their mental health and more often than not, the early years work-place serves as a home away from home for them. I remember working in a nursery where the staff room had been turned into a cosy nook with a library space, magazines, food/drinks and hygge blankets (I power napped most days which helps me) and it was such a small but powerful recognition of the importance of staff comfort. I think we need to recognise that some staff are experiencing as deprived circumstances as the children they care for and so emotional safety in the workplace is paramount for all (yet very difficult to achieve).
On a grander scale, I think we also need not reduce mental- health to either a cliché or tokenistic experience. We talk about well-being holistically, but we must continue to talk about the specific mental health experiences that might be impacting us without our full knowledge and finding ways to let people wait it out.
Some reflective questions about staff depression
Do you have a mental health pathway for staff during induction? Are staff made aware of signs and symptoms to be aware of in depression and mood related difficulties?
Are staff aware of their privacy and confidentiality rights if they decide to share with you that they are taking medication or attending therapy?
Do staff have an adequate space to rest during the day?
Can staff request ‘reasonable adjustments’ through periods of depression & anxiety?