It started innocently enough. Your colleague or teacher friend stopped returning your phone calls. She/he stopped attending social events. You figured, with all going on at work, the person was simply busy. However, these can be the early warning signs of a colleague in trouble. When overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, homesick, or depressed, many people begin to withdraw from social interactions. Someone who suddenly isolates herself at home can indicate that a colleague needs to be checked on.
Not all colleagues experiencing a hard time may exhibit these symptoms. Some may continue to attend social functions but there’s a slight yet discernible difference in their personality. Perhaps they’re more quiet than usual, or they snap at people when asked a question or engaged in conversation. You may also notice inexplicable weight loss or dark circles under their eyes as if they’re not sleeping.
If you notice any of these indicators of potential issues, it’s important to tread lightly. Many people are fearful and they believe that asking for or receiving help is an invasion of their privacy and will lead to gossip. This lack of trust in the inherent desire of others to help someone in need is another factor that facilitates emotional decline. The best first step when reaching out to someone is to accurately assess your relationship with that person. If they are a close friend, you can be gently approach the person and, with no one else around, ask them if everything is ok or if there’s anything you can do to help. Mention just a few indicators you’ve noticed that led you to be concerned. They’ll likely appreciate that someone noticed and cared enough about their distress to lend a hand in whatever way is possible.
If the teacher in trouble is not a close friend but a colleague, you may want to choose a few moments after school and away from others to approach them with authentic concern and simply ask if everything is O.K. Don’t point out specific indicators you may have observed since that may be seen as being nosey. If the teacher denies there are any problems, don’t press the issue and don’t mention it again unless she/he brings it up. Let your parting statement be along the lines of “if you ever want to talk, let me know.” This should only be offered if you truly mean it and are discreet enough to not talk with anyone else but your colleague.
It’s usually helpful to allow people to vent without judgment or repercussion. Try and create social safe spaces where teachers can discuss and laugh about their shared experiences. Adjusting to a new culture, different class based behavioural experiences, and other issues take longer for some than others. It’s not helpful to dismiss someone’s experiences by telling them “this is not (insert name of home country)” or “if you don’t like it leave.” Most teachers leave their home countries with the expectation that certain basic things will be in place and it takes some longer to adjust than others when those things aren’t.
Be patient with each other, allow people to share their experiences without diminishing them and be a compassionate listening ear. All of this will go a long way in helping a teacher in trouble.