Tuesday, 19 February 2013

How feelings of injustice and betrayal can contribute to depression.

For those of you wondering why it has been so long since my last blog post, my own recent experience of this aspect of depressive illness explains the long silence.

In recent years, I have received many accounts from teachers suffering from mental conditions like depression and anxiety. It is quite common for them to cite injustice or betrayal as factors contributing to their condition.   They are typically teachers who have had long and successful careers and they often describe a misuse of monitoring or disciplinary procedures against them. 

They feel a strong sense of injustice.  Some feel betrayed by colleagues of long standing who they had formerly trusted and may have considered as friends.  These well-justified feelings have had a significant impact of the mental health of many.  It is not uncommon for such teachers to hold senior posts in schools and they may also have had a track record of outstanding OFSTED judgements in the past.

I took early retirement in 2006 as a result of a serious depressive illness.   By 2012 my condition had gradually, but significantly, improved.  However, it is fair to say that once subject to depression your resilience remains lower than it did before the illness first emerged.   I had learnt to spot the warning signs and took evasive action to stay healthy with some success until July of last year. In brief, here is what happened then. 

I, among others, had discovered evidence of some possible financial irregularities within a branch of the National Union of Teachers, a union that I have been an active member of for over 40 years.  I was also the Union’s National President in 2001-2. 

It seemed appropriate to obtain more information to see if our fears were grounded, but when access to documentation and the normal process of financial scrutiny at branch meetings was blocked, there seemed little alternative but to ‘whistle blow’ about our concerns. I expected the Union to take our concerns seriously but soon found that I was to be severely disappointed. Far from receiving the support as whistle blowers that you might expect in a trade union, there seemed to be an attempt to ‘sweep the problem under the carpet’.

I, among several other members, received warning letters from the Union’s solicitor initiated by decisions of National Officers, some of whom were long standing friends.  A Union ‘investigation’ was set up but was superficial in its scope and lacked  evidence to substantiate  its key conclusions.  The investigation attempted to exonerate the alleged wrongdoing and we immediately appealed against the findings.  There has never been a reply to that appeal letter.  

Almost immediately after the investigation was concluded, I and three others found ourselves charged under the Union’s disciplinary procedure with ‘bullying’ those who we had accused of financial malpractice.  The Union had been ‘sitting on’ these charges for several weeks.  We did not even know of their existence.  This is in breach of a key principle defined in Article 6 the European Convention of Human Rights.

All of this experience has had a dramatic impact on my health.  Feelings of betrayal and injustice overwhelmed me and I fell again into depression.  I was unable to even consider the matter for months.  Although the cloud of depression has now begun to lift, the events have set back my recovery significantly.  I am unable to discuss the detail of the disciplinary process and how it has developed, because I would put myself in breach of the Union’s rules if I did.  However, it remains unresolved over 7 months after its initiation.

The positive side of these events is that I now have an enhanced empathy for those many teachers who described the impact of injustice and betrayal on their mental health.

As a result of my illness, I have now stopped much of my work relating to teacher mental health. I am no longer taking speaking engagements or conducting any new research.  However, I do hope to post on this blog from time to time. 

You can return to my site here http://teachermentalhealth.org.uk/

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