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Bipolar teacher opens up about mental health stigma

Nik Allen in the classroom Photo: ITV

A teacher from Lancashire who has bipolar disorder is leading the fight against mental health stigma after being told she should quit as she was "a danger to children."

But the comment didn't come from a mental health professional, but a peer working in the same field. It's stereotypes like that, that led the psychology teacher to lead the way to break down the barriers associated with mental illness.

Nik Allen said she'd had problems as long as she could remember but it took until she was in her 30s to get a proper diagnosis.

"Nobody was willing to deal with the fact that I had a mental illness," she said, adding that even some family members put her illness down to "bad upbringing."

She was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, in which people experience extreme mood swings from high "manic episodes" to a deep depression.

Determined not to let the illness take over her life, Allen sought help and now controls her disorder with medication.

She also took the brave step of opening up to her class one day at Rossall School in Fleetwood.

Nik Allen Credit: ITV

I'd been teaching psychology and I was feeling the whole time like I was in some way not telling the truth.

I thought be brave and one day I just said to my class, 'I'm mentally ill, have bipolar disorder.'

– Teacher Nik Allen

She said that "The most wonderful thing happened. Their reaction was 'cool, really?' and then the questions started."

Allen says it has helped her to reach out to pupils who may also have problems but were too ashamed to talk about it.

There are calls from charity YoungMinds for classes like this to be made compulsory.

Director of Campaigns Lucie Russell said, "Services need to be available in schools, in local communities, there needs to be resources online, young people need to be able to find support 24 hours a day."

Allen's students agree, saying it's opened their eyes and their minds to the world of mental health and would stop them stigmatising people in the future as well as helping them to speak out.

Find out more about bipolar here.

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