Wellbeing & workload: Feeling overwhelmed?

Written by: Sophie Howells | Published:
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Teachers can often struggle to maintain good mental health and wellbeing. There is expert support out there, but Sophie Howells urges you not to wait until you are already in crisis

Over the last year, the Education Support Partnership has experienced the highest number of calls ever to its emotional support helpline.

In March alone, the charity managed 1,156 cases, making it the busiest month the confidential helpline has ever experienced. At the same time, our specially trained and accredited counsellors reported that many of the calls they were receiving were from those already experiencing a crisis.

The demand for the service from education professionals reflects the findings of our Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, in which 76 per cent of education professionals told us that they have experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work (this compares to 60 per cent of UK employees overall, according to Business in the Community’s 2017 Mental Health at Work research).

In the secondary sector specifically, 50 per cent said they had at some point experienced depression, anxiety and/or panic attacks. We can see a steep rise in teachers struggling to maintain good wellbeing and mental health.

Teachers and other education professionals however, do not appear to be asking for help at the first – or even the second – sign of difficulties. While we know that the helpline is clearly making a significant difference and helping to keep many in the profession, the vast majority need to get in touch sooner – before they hit major problems.

It is something we can all play a part in achieving. More people need to know that life in and out of work may at times feel overwhelming, but that support is available and it is easy to reach.

Finding ways to manage your wellbeing can turn things around and improve your resilience in the short and longer term. At present, fewer than half (43 per cent) of classroom teachers are aware that they can access free and confidential telephone counselling. But for those who find it, the value is telling.

As one teacher, Abigale, told us: “A while ago I was feeling overwhelmed with work and not having enough time to get it all done. I used the Education Support helpline as I felt it was all getting on top of me. Just to share with someone who was not involved, to rationalise my thoughts, was really, really helpful.

“I used to get very stressed and bring it all home. It is so hard not to in our profession. Now I am able to talk and address the problem more quickly, because of the techniques I have now got, and then move on.”

According to our helpline’s feedback research, 87 per cent of the helpline users told us that they felt better equipped to deal with their problems after accessing the support.

However, despite this, our specialist counsellors continue to report that the overwhelming majority of callers would have benefited from accessing their specialist support at an earlier stage.

Being able to spot the signs of not only your own poor mental health but that of a colleague as well is a crucial first step towards helping more people to access the support they need.

Poor mental health can be experienced in many different ways, and it is not just the obvious signs we need to look out for. Changes in behaviour may include sudden weight loss or gain, looking run down, tearfulness, being withdrawn, having difficulty sleeping, increased arguments, or an apparent loss of confidence. The charity Mind offers a best practice guide about how to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem (see further information).

If your workplace does not already offer mental health training as part of your CPD then it is something you could recommend they do? Could your school signpost teachers to the Education Support helpline?

More widely, the Education Support Partnership wants the Department of Education (DfE) to make wellbeing and mental health a central component of the early career support plans it is developing (DfE, 2019) and the charity is working closely with them to make this happen. In the meantime, if you are feeling overwhelmed, worried, anxious, fearful or uninterested in life then call the free, confidential helpline, which is available 24/7.

No matter how insignificant you may feel your symptoms are, an early and proactive approach to your wellbeing is always best for you, your colleagues and the young people who rely on you.

  • Sophie Howells is from the Education Support Partnership.

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