AT the age of 18, when most students were finishing high school and preparing to explore the world, Ben Eretz was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Bravely writing about his experience in a recent LinkedIn post, he said he conceptualised the most important aspects of his life – education, relationships, career, friends – as “building blocks” that were quickly knocked over with his diagnosis.
“All the benefits of having a strong foundation were gone, I had lost my confidence and my sense of self, I no longer understood my place in the world,” he wrote.
Now 35, Eretz has relapsed four times. “Each time I relapsed, the wall was a little stronger, enough to withstand a complete collapse. Each time I went into remission, I had developed strategies to not allow the rebuild to overwhelm me,” he wrote.
He began to ask himself these questions: “How do I not let the anger and frustration consume me, shape who I am and how I engage with the world? How do I reconnect socially and professionally when I am well enough? How do I trust my body, so that I can make plans for the future?”
During his journey, Eretz had a recurring thought that his experience was not unique and that these questions had been asked by many people before him.
“There are countless people who have struggled with these ideas. Why was I doing it alone?” he thought.
Eretz wished that he had had someone to discuss his experiences and feelings with at the time, someone who had been through similar hardships. With years of personal experience, including working as a primary teacher, he decided he wanted to be that person for someone else.
This is when he joined longtime friend Benji Gersh in developing Greater Space, a service that provides a space for educators to reflect on their practice and improve their mental health.
Gersh, who is a trained counsellor and secondary teacher, has a decade of experience working in disadvantaged schools and juvenile justice centres. He wrote about his experiences, reflecting on the work he did as a teacher and school leader in environments the mental health industry would call “trauma saturated”.
“Sometimes I came home from a tough day and needed a shower. It felt as if the heaviness of those places was on me, and I had to wash it off,” he wrote.
Considering what work has looked like for him at Greater Space and how educators have reacted to his new venture, he said that a surprising number of principals would burst into tears at the question, “So, how are you?”
“Those tears from that question left a deep impression on me. As an education system we had developed an entire trauma-informed approach – I was training people in it every week, but we had neglected to ask the staff how they were, and then listen for an answer,” he wrote.
Greater Space fills this gap between educators and mental health professionals by offering a mix of counselling and professional development to teachers themselves in order for them to be able to educate our youth on dealing with mental health challenges.
“The relief that my clients feel when speaking privately to an independent practitioner fills me with the hope that we are on the right path to better supporting the mental health of educators, allowing them to be their best for their students,” wrote Eretz, “Brick by brick we are changing the way we look after each other.”
For more information, visit greaterspace.com.au