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The Reactions I Faced as a 'Small Town' Teacher Who Was Hospitalized for Mental Illness

“I heard you went to the ‘looney bin!’” a student yells in front of the entire fifth grade art class. Bursts of spontaneous laughter follow.

It’s my second day back at work after being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. I can imagine that my two-week absence at the beginning of the school year may be quite suspect. I can feel my heart beating frantically throughout my entire body. How does this student know? Did my closest colleagues gossip about me within earshot of their students? Did one of the hospital nurses know a parent? A former student was on the ward at the same time as me — did they tell anyone?

How should I respond? ‘Fess up and use the opportunity to try to teach my students about the importance of mental health? No, I’m sure that the leadership won’t approve. Reprimand the student? No, that will just draw more unwanted attention to the matter.

Making a joke to disarm the situation may be my only choice – but I’m screwed if it backfires.

“Well, if I ended up there, they would never let me leave. It would take a long time to fix everything, right? I just had to take care of some family matters. Sorry it took me so long, but I’m back now. Hopefully, you’ll like this next project.”

Not the most appropriate thing to say, but it gets a few laughs, and I’m able to refocus the class. This isn’t the end of the ridicule, though.

A few weeks later, I’m at the park with my sister and her kids. On my way back from taking my toddler niece to the bathroom, I run into a fourth grade student and his mom.

“I didn’t know you had a kid, Ms. Monico,” the student says. I let him know she is my niece.

“And you’re with her here all by yourself?” the student’s mom asks with an overly concerned look.

“Oh… No, her mom, um, my

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