Teacher shares personal story of mental illness

Anushka Mukherjee | Staff Writer

AP Psychology teacher Mollee Coffey shared her struggle with depression with her students to enhance their learning.

Everyone has their own journey with mental health, but one Mason High School teacher is using hers to start a conversation.  

Mollee Coffey, an Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology teacher, has taught the class at Mason for the past five years. She said she shares her story about her struggle with mental illness with her students to help them better understand the content. 

“In high school, I was diagnosed with depression,” Coffey said. “It was one of those times in my life where I was at my lowest, and it came to the point where I considered suicide. At that time no one ever really thought that I could be going through something like this because I always portrayed myself as this bubbly, happy person. So it took a lot of people by shock, especially my parents, because they didn’t really know how to deal with it. It was a learning curve for us and they did everything they could to help me.”

Coffey said the years from high school to college were rough for her, as she was trying to navigate through life with a mental illness. She struggled with depression long before she was diagnosed because of the many trigger factors that built up over the years.

“It was a combination of a lot of things over time,” Coffey said. “I was bullied in middle school and that pushed me to take a step into the world of negative self-image, low self-worth, and a sense of hopelessness. It wasn’t until high school that I was finally able to give it a name. And it was almost like a sense of relief because I could put a name to what I was experiencing.”

Given her experience with mental illness, teaching AP Psychology helped Coffey define her life. She struggled with her illness since high school, and since she started teaching, said she realized that her diagnosis was a physical disease she wasn’t in control of. 

“It took me a long time to finally understand and accept my diagnosis,” Coffey said. “When I was teaching [AP Psychology] at Oak Hills everything clicked into place because I finally began to accept that yes, there was something wrong with my brain. That changed my attitude towards depression. I was 23 or 24 at the time, so it truly had been a long battle for me. Realizing that it was outside my control is what pushed me to start taking better care of myself.” 

Coffey battled with herself for almost 10 years, and finally, she understood how she wanted to look at herself despite her illness. Now, she said she wants to share her story with as many people as possible to let them know that they are not alone. 

“I want to help,” Coffey said. “I want people who are struggling to feel less alone and burdened by whatever mental illness they may be going through. I wish that when I was a teenager people had been more vocal about this issue because it would have helped me feel less alone and scared. I want my students to see that mental health illness has a face.”

In today’s day and age, she said she believes that mental health is an even bigger issue because of all the negativity out in the world. Coffey said she’s happy mental health is getting more attention but is concerned with how it is being handled by the media.

“It’s even worse now because there’s just so many stressors and triggers out there that makes it easy to develop a negative self-image or have a sense of hopelessness,” Coffey said. “But I believe that we need to be careful about how we discuss the issue because we don’t necessarily want to show examples of how to commit suicide and such. So it’s important to not move too fast too quickly. I think that we need to talk about it first and understand it before we can start making movies and books.”

Hearing Coffey talk about her journey pushed some students to find confidence despite their illness. Senior Meghan Burke is one of the few individuals who was affected by Coffey’s story because it helped her come to terms with her mental health. 

“[Hearing Coffey share her story] was really helpful because we got to talk about and it was a nice way to go through that process,” Burke said. “I have dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression since freshman year, so hearing her talk us through her story made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

Through her story, Coffey has empowered many students like Burke. Coffey said she believes if she can help even one person, her struggle was not in vain. Because of this, Coffey is using her classroom as a platform to start the conversation about mental health. 

“I started sharing my story three years ago because I finally had the courage to talk about it,” Coffey said. “For a long time, this was something I was embarrassed and ashamed of because of the lack of vocalization and knowledge at that time. It’s no longer controlling me because I feel like I’m finally controlling it. So let’s talk about it.” 

Graphic by Riley Johansen.