World Mental Health Day 2019

World Mental Health day is here, and it’s time to talk about mental health awareness. It’s been shown that teachers are more likely than others to suffer from behavioral, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work. This leads to more and more teachers leaving the profession, causing huge teacher shortages which only causes more stress to the teachers left dealing with larger class sizes as a result. Stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health and this has been found to be higher in teaching than in other professions.

Improving mental health and well being for staff working in schools

It is important that we recognise that many of the mental health issues experienced by teachers are influenced by their workplace environment. Teachers cite some of their main concerns as

  • Not feeling supported by their Senior Leadership team
  • Feeling like they don’t have anyone to talk to
  • Having an unmanageable workload
  • Working unbearably long hours and never ‘switching off’
  • Unreasonable demands from managers

All of these issues can be helped by making sure the workplace is set up in a way that helps teaching staff with managing their workload and provides a supportive environment so teachers feel comfortable to talk to their managers. As a teacher, you can encourage your leadership team to promote positive mental health in the workplace. Senior leadership can try assessing their school wellbeing as a whole to identify areas specific to their school that could be improved, and you can get an idea on what a healthy workplace looks like using some of these resources:

Supporting your own mental health

On an individual basis, there is a lot we can do to take care of our own mental health. When it comes to any mental health related problem, it is always good to talk to someone. Samaritans has launched the Small Talk Saves Lives campaign to raise awareness of how much difference having a conversation can make. There is helpline specifically for teachers set up by Education Support Partnership. You can call 08000 562 561 or text 07909 341229 anytime and they can help you if you are feeling overwhelmed or if you have a concern over a colleague.

As stress is one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health, try some of these stress busting techniques which have been scientifically proven to improve mood and wellbeing:

  • Breathing – Try breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds and letting it out for four seconds. This has been shown to help you calm down and lower stress hormones in the body.
  • Exercise – Regular physical activity has been proven to improve a variety of mental health issues, specifically anxiety, depression and chronic stress. If you can fit just a 10 minute walk into your day it can do wonders for your mindset.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – If you are feeling tense, try tensing your muscles bit by bit. Start by tensing your feet, then your legs and so on until you reach the top of your body. This helps to get out nervous energy and relaxes your body which in turn makes you feel more relaxed.
  • Meditation and mindfulness – Try out one of these meditation and mindfulness podcasts to help de-stress and focus your mind.

Supporting students mental health

We as teaching staff have a duty of care to our students and this extends to supporting their mental health. Government figures now show that 1 in 8 students in the UK have a mental health disorder. SecEd provides a great article on spotting and averting issues in schools and you should make sure your latest safeguarding training is complete to help you identify and properly deal with vunerable children (you can access our free safeguarding course here).

It can be a lot more difficult to tell if children are struggling with their mental health because they tend to keep things to themselves. Students can also be under tremendous amounts of stress in school, from exam pressure, bullying and general anxieties caused by their environment. This is why it is really important to introduce students to mental health and how to take care of themselves, including resources for them if they feel like they are struggling. Here are some resources you can use in schools to introduce the topic to your students:

By making sure our teachers and students have the support they need, we pave the way for making our schools an amazing place to be. Teachers with better mental health make better teachers, students with better mental health make better students. We get into teaching because we love education, so lets keep it that way by creating an environment where we can all be healthy and happy!

World Mental Health day 2019 has a specific focus on suicide prevention and there are many great resources for this on their website. If you or anyone around you is feeling suicidal please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team.  You can always call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you need someone to talk to and you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone you know.