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Teacher Wellness

Creating a Compassionate Classroom

Creating a Compassionate Classroom (ATA 2015, 12) states,

Changes in thinking, mood or behaviour that are troubling, last longer than two weeks, or are interfering with everyday life should prompt an evaluation by a doctor or other mental health professional. A family doctor is a good place to start, as they can rule out any other causes for changes in thinking, mood or behaviour and can refer patients to another mental health professional like a counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.

Symptoms vary with each person and type of mental illness, but the following are some of the common symptoms to watch for:

  • Sudden withdrawal from friends and family
  • Confused thoughts, delusions and/or hallucinations
  • Extreme fears or anxiety that seem out of proportion to circumstances or events
  • Lack of motivation for a prolonged period of time (longer than two weeks)
  • Persistent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Extreme mood swings between depression and mania, sometimes with overly reckless behaviour
  • Repeated, unusual actions such as handwashing or checking of lights
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as nausea, trembling, fatigue or headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating, maintaining attention and/or sudden irritability
  • Disruption to usual sleep patterns
  • Serious disturbance in eating patterns accompanied by a preoccupation with body image
  • Talk or thoughts of suicide

The resource outlines the following ways to help a student, colleague, friend or loved one:

  • Be aware of the mental health and behaviour of the people around you and when you see worrying behaviour, act on your intuition.
  • Talk to the person in a caring and respectful manner. Keep in mind that the stigma surrounding mental illness is the biggest reason why people do not seek the help that they need.
  • Communicate the things you have noticed that concern you. Talk about behaviour rather than the student as an individual; rather than saying, “you are acting strange,” talk about the specifics you have noticed without placing judgment.
  • If you have spoken with the student and you remain concerned, talk to the most appropriate person in your school. This may be a counsellor, social worker, nurse, psychologist, your department head or principal. Setting up a procedure beforehand is the best thing a school can do. You can find more information on this in the “How do we make our schools more compassionate?” section on page 29.
  • You may need to alert the parent(s) or guardian(s) that the student is in need of additional help and/or outside resources.
  • If necessary, refer the student to an outside mental health professional to assist with obtaining any necessary treatment for the student. The student, teacher, parent(s)/guardian(s), along with the mental health professional(s) should work as a team to develop strategies to support the student in the school.

Read the full Creating a Compassionate Classroom booklet.