Dr. Spilchuk – Mental Health2017-06-02T14:25:36+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

February, 2006

Mental Health

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

After a sterling career overseas in several international schools, our last international school was not the right move for my family. My daughter was not well looked after by our hired help and the living environment, in particular, was not a good one for her. This, along with many other pressing factors, contributed to me becoming very depressed to the point that I felt suicidal. The situation spiraled out of control until I was sent home to seek professional psychiatric help. My contract was mutually ended and my husband was allowed to break contract with the School as well, with no financial consequences, so as to accompany me home and be there for my treatment (a very generous and humane decision).

This happened years ago. I am now healthy, mentally strong, and have permanent employment in the States as a Language Consultant. My husband and I wonder if our international careers have been irreparably damaged. We would like to seek positions overseas again in a couple of years. ISS wants seven years of references. Our Search Associates Representative knows the full story. He told us I need five years of proven good mental health before he would consider having me on the books again.

My question is “Should we by-pass Search and go with ISS?” Another choice – it may sound extreme – is for me to change my name. My husband and I are seriously considering this alternative. What do you recommend?

Regards,

Janice

Hello Janice,

ou have several ways of approaching this situation.

1.) The first is to use Search to find a job for you if you have the medical certificate they require. Remember, however, that these folk are being paid a good dollar to field you in a positive way. Any offers they present to you may not provide the best solution for you as:

a.) you have no first hand knowledge of what information they have shared to secure a position for you, and

b.) you have no first hand information of what they gave up in terms of your best interests to make a buck from your future employment.

2.) The second solution is to go to ISS. I believe, however, that seven years of “blemish free mental health employment” as a teacher is excessive. I wonder if we expect the same of our politicians.

3.) A third possibility is for you to connect with Tie-Online and check out the possibilities offered there.

I suggest that you look at all of your options, then make a list of positive and negative consequences should you choose one solution over another.

As for five to seven years of ‘proven good mental health’, this is way beyond what I believe should be allowable for any International Education employer to expect of an employee. A drug test – yes. A police check – yes. But a mental health check going back five to seven years – bizarre. The possibility for any person to experience a stress related disorder over their lifetime is one in five. As long as your doctor says you are healthy and able to teach and travel, go for it! As long as your husband supports that option, go for it! I have to wonder who it is that creates organizational ‘policies’ designed to further victimize teachers who have already experienced a disastrous experience. I would not want to allow someone else to punish me for circumstances out of my control years ago.

I do not believe this is an ethical issue that you need to grapple with by going to an extreme, Janice. Keep your own name. The policies as you have described them to me are archaic and discriminatory. Find a solid school that supports your philosophy. Then look after yourself and your family and you will certainly be able to look after the children and educational program at the next International School you work at.

Thank you so much for bringing this topic of discussion forward.

Best wishes

Barbara

PS: Clandinin and Connelly (and others) support the notion that we live storied lives. That is, our stories, storied from our experiences, drive who we ultimately become as teachers. I wonder if your experiences haven’t made you into a more compassionate, kind and understanding Consultant within your school District. If this is so, then that is not a terrible thing to have happened.

Responses to This Column

Dear Barbara

I would certainly like to hear a measured response from a Director to the issue that Janice has brought forward.

Other issues to add to the debate might include:

a.) different countries have different Mental Health policies,
b.) the presence (or lack thereof) of good quality health care in general might preclude a Director from selecting someone with health issues (including mental health, so it could be very dangerous to refrain from mentioning it), and
c.) the terrible stigmas attached to mental health (why do people with back problems attract sympathy, and people with mental health issues attract savagery?).

From my understanding, an American psychiatrist would likely insist upon institutionalization. An Australian psychiatrist would likely insist upon acclimatization, and re-integration (with help). A UK psychiatrist might choose either option. The choices for all are political.

I have to wonder if a teacher who has been institutionalized at any point is at a disadvantage. Can Search demand records of institutionalization? Doesn’t this open to question the possibility that teachers will not look after themselves while abroad if they understand the consequences of seeking help for Mental Illness?

Thank you for taking this further.

Sincerely,

Daniel


Dear Daniel

Thank you so much for your questions. They are very compelling.

I am Canadian so my response will be from that perspective. I would hope that Directors and teachers abroad who are American, UK or other and who have had experiences with the Mental Health issues you have raised, will respond from the perspective of their country’s policies so that we might begin to have develop an online open discussion spanning a broad overview of International experience. If we receive no responses, then I suspect the stigma Janice alluded to in her letter may be affecting how safe our readers feel in responding to your questions. This eventuality, in and of itself, would be a very telling and compelling result.

FYI and for the information of those International directors and teachers who might wish to respond, ISR respects the confidentiality of its readers. Certain elements of letters sent in by teachers/directors who may be recognizable and who wish not to be, are changed prior to publication in order to ensure that those who participate in open debate are protected.

The Charter of Human Right in Canada prohibits discrimination against a person with a diagnosed Mental Health disorder. Failure to protect this Human Right is a serious offence and is prosecutable under Federal Law. I have to wonder what might happen if a Canadian Search Organization were to demand disclosure from a potential Canadian teacher of their Mental Health history while in both were located in Canada. I would suspect that an incident of this sort would become fodder for a Human Rights investigation and possible prosecution.

In Canada, personal medical records are protected under FOIP, “Freedom of Information and Privacy Act”. School records of Canadian employees also fall under FOIP. Whether you choose to disclose your medical history or not is your private business. While I have been requested to produce a letter from my physician stating that I am healthy, and I have also been requested to produce test results for Hep A and B, Aids, and other highly contagious medical problems, I have never been asked for a Mental Health certificate. Nor would I produce one external to what my doctor says about me within a full Medical Examination report for an organization.

Again, thank you for your participation in discussion of this serious issue.

Best wishes,

Barbara

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