On 4 February 2021, there is another ‘Time to Talk Day’ (hereafter TtTD), organised through the Time To Change (TtC) campaign. This idea, to talk about one’s own mental health issues, begun in 2007. Since its inception, Time to Change has been a ‘growing social movement’ working to change the way we all think and act about mental health problems, particularly focused on people living and working in the UK.
However, it was announced in October last year that the TtC movement will come to an end in March, due to the withdrawal of government funding. It will cease on 31 March following the UK Government’s decision to end funding. But it is vital this does not signal the end of the Government’s anti-stigma efforts, according to the TtC website, nor TtTD. Funding a campaign such as this is clearly not a priority or even a concern any more. Resources are understandably all being directed at the NHS, although mental health is just as important as physical health. However, it just doesn’t have the same parity, in reality. I was one of 9000+ registered so-called ‘champions’ in the country, although I was only involved in a few awareness campaigns, such as this one on Mental Health Awareness Day in 2018. I received mental health training from Norfolk and Norwich Mind and, as you probably know, have presented on this topic at several webinars and conferences. However, I also think it is a time for me to change, too. Therefore, this will probably be my last ever post explicitly about mental health.
The power of small
This year’s theme for TtTD is ‘The power of small’. It states that:
“A small conversation about mental health has the power to make a big difference. We know that the more conversations we have, the more myths we can bust and barriers we can break down, helping to end the isolation, shame and worthlessness that too many of us with mental health problems are made to feel. TtTD is the day that we get the nation talking about mental health. This year’s event might look a little different, but at times like this open conversations about mental health are more important than ever. We need your help to start the conversation this TtTD – together we can end mental health stigma.”Website and leaflet
However, I agree with something the well-known author, Matt Haig, said recently around World Mental Health Awareness Day. He somewhat flippantly stated on Twitter that “the mental health conversation is so boring now. Even pre covid suicide, self-harm and eating disorder rates were spiking. Let’s move past being congratulated for talking. Not enough. Look at causes. Contents. Remedies. Look at why our minds don’t work properly in modern life.” He went on to list some things we need to properly understand, for example, the relationship between our working culture, social media and our minds. This echoes an opinion I gave in my last research post on the mental health of language teachers around the world. You cannot divorce what happens in your head with what is going on in your working environment, especially the working one.
That remark about not separating our psychology from our working environment was adapted from a tweet in November by Paul Walsh, which was a reply to me when I wrote about my intention to publish the results of my research. Four years ago, I was interviewed by Paul for Time to Talk day. Having mentioned his ELT journal key-term article on ‘precarity’ when I published my recent research article on 4 January this year, he contacted me again to do a follow-up. The original interview was kind of a ‘coming out’ for me, although people that knew me well, understood that I had struggled for years with my own mental health battles, mostly anxiety and depression. As recently as November, I was struggling again, but it passed, and I am currently feeling great, fingers crossed, despite the ongoing pandemic and the serious restrictions to all our movement in the UK. He interviewed me from his home in Berlin on 14 January, while I joined him from my Norfolk home. The final interview is transcribed on the ‘Teachers as Workers’ SIG website.
As I stated above, I have been in insecure work for years. This is partly my choice. From 2007-2016 I was a classic TEFLer, travelling to far away countries to experience new cultures and languages. I used TEFL.com a lot to look and apply for work. Although I have not used this global recruitment site for four years, since I decided to stop travelling abroad for work, they have republished my article on their blog. My previous, personal blog was as much about travelling and my adventures in other countries as it was about English language teaching. I graduated to WordPress in 2014, but this period of going abroad for work was nearing an end. I only had one more contract – in 2016 – which only lasted a few weeks as I did not cope with the working conditions of a remote town in Saudi Arabia. That post, written whilst in Bahrain, was my first for over two years, because I was hardly employed at all during the period 2014-16 and I remember sleepless nights wondering why I ever went back to University to study for a Masters, because it had not translated into secure work.
Precarity and job security are undoubtedly linked to our mental health, but the former concept and the latter requirement are not necessarily the primary reasons for either poor or positive mental health issues. However, I have been looking for job security for the past year or so. On the same date we conducted the above interview, I also had a job interview for a full-time position based in Sheffield, but starting online and working from home. I had a second task-based interview, involving delivering a presentation, one week later. It was an E-learning technologist job, not a teaching one. I was apparently the best external candidate. However, the position was given to someone, already based in Sheffield, who had been doing the supporting version of this role and put in a last minute application. So, I was asked if I was interested in a more junior position, reporting to the E-learning technologist, which came with a lower salary.
*Update 17 February. Having been told that the ‘junior’ role needed to be advertised internally, I was subsequently told that they would not be advertising the role externally. I am suspicious, but there is nothing I could do. So, after all my efforts it doesn’t look like I will be ‘jumping ship’ after all. Not yet, anyway. It opens up the strong possibility of working for the University of Sheffield again this summer. So, still teaching and, possibly, a blessing in disguise!
I will keep offering private tuition using Skype and the excellent Off 2 Class platform. Coincidentally, the current unit I am teaching with one of my learners is about Change.
C’est la vie! Plus ca change!
Longwell, P and Walsh, P. (2017) Time to talk about … Mental Health: Interview with Phil Longwell. Available at: https://www.teachersasworkers.org/time-to-talk-about-mental-health-interview-with-phil-longwell/
Longwell, P and Walsh, P. (2021) Time to talk about … Jumping Ship. Available at: https://www.teachersasworkers.org/blog/
Time to Change (2020). Time to Change Closure. Available at: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-to-change-closure.
Walsh, P. (2019). Precarity. ELT Journal, Volume 73, Issue 4, October 2019, Pages 459–462, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccz029 Available at: https://academic.oup.com/eltj/article/73/4/459/5582686
Note: This post was edited on 17 February to reflect the change in the job application which did not result in being hired.