Stress - the modern plague


Two days ago I had my first article published in the TES. For the last two days I have been inundated by messages from teachers telling me their stories and thanking me for letting them know that they are not alone.

There is a huge mental health crisis, not just our schools but our hospitals, our universities, among our children, bankers, lawyers… everyone is being affected.

Yesterday we were told that Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, was being replaced due to a period of ill health. We haven’t been told officially that it is stress related but whatever you think about her policies (and this isn’t a political post), there are two things that I find very upsetting about this news.

The first is that we have become a society who, for reasons unknown to me, seem to think that anyone who is in the public eye is fair sport and ceases to become a person. Diane Abbott has been trolled online for weeks. Some of the comments about her after her recent interview with Nick Ferrari were absolutely appalling. No one deserves to be treated in such an inhumane way.

Secondly, I fear that she is just the latest in a long list of people, passionate about their work, to be toppled by stress. When we are under stress one of the first things that happens is that our prefrontal cortex shuts down. This is the part of our brains which controls reasoning and rational thought. It helps us retain facts for exams and is pretty much the part that we rely on most to help us look like intelligent creatures. When this shuts down, due to stress and anxiety, we struggle to retain facts and cannot create a rational argument.

Whether Diane Abbott is indeed off with stress or whether she has other underlying health issues will no doubt come out over the next few weeks but one thing that is for sure, she was under a lot of pressure during the interviews she has given recently and by vilifying her for being unable to form a coherent argument the public have only added to her problems.

I don’t know Diane Abbott. I don’t know much about her at all. But I recognise symptoms when I see them. I do know many teachers, nurses and other valuable professionals, who are all in the same mental state that I believe Diane Abbott to be in. They can’t think straight. They can’t eat. Can’t sleep. They are snapping a their children and not able to function about the basic necessities.

Something has to change, and quickly

We are killing the beating heart of our country by not supporting each other when we’re in need. When we see someone struggling and it affects our life our reaction seems to be “how dare you make my life more difficult” not, “how can I help you?”. We need to stop aiming for imaginary ideas of what the perfect life is and start learning to enjoy the life we have.

We need to start caring again. Really caring about each other. But more than that, about our neighbours, random people in the street, the environment, people in other countries… We have to care deeply to reverse the crisis that is happening in the world. We have seen amazing kindness and compassion in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London recently. That is what we need to start offering to our nurses, our doctors and even our politicians. There is no point behaving so valiantly when we have devastating events but ignoring the ongoing pain in our society. That’s like a murderer convincing himself he’s a good person because he goes to church on Sunday. We have to unite and be consistent. Learn to see the signs of stress. When you see them, reach out your hand and offer help.

As Martin Luther King, Jr said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Please, be the light.

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