World Mental Health Day: Psychological first aid for teachers

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: iStock

Julian Stanley marks World Mental Health Day with a call for schools to prioritise the mental health of staff before it is too late

Monday (October 10) marked World Mental Health Day. A global event, but the growing recognition of the importance of nurturing and maintaining our mental wellbeing seems particularly pertinent to our sector in the UK right now too.

As the effects of excessive workload and stress among educators grow, the theme of “psychological first aid”, (the awareness day’s UK theme for this year) encourages us all to look at how we can help ourselves.

The latest evidence of the scale of the mental health problem is illustrated by the results of a 1,000-strong survey of primary and secondary teachers.

Carried out by Towergate Insurance, it found that a quarter said they had turned to medication to cope with stress at work. Nearly a third (31 per cent) had visited a doctor because of their problems and, significantly, 15 per cent had received counselling.

In many ways this presents no surprise given current pressures. With workload and pressure on teacher accountability at an all-time high, Ofsted inspections now top the list of the most stressful events of the school year. Taking medication can be an appropriate solution to alleviate symptoms that those working in education may experience, but talking therapies can play an equally important role, sometimes averting a greater personal and wider crisis.

At the Education Support Partnership, work-related stress and anxiety continue to top the list of reasons why people contact our confidential helpline. Equally high is the number of callers identifying themselves as being depressed.

Our annual health survey across the sector demonstrated earlier this year that the vast majority of respondents (84 per cent) said they had suffered some form of mental health problem in the last two years. This is an alarming trend, reflecting a systemic failure that must be addressed. Clearly there are no easy options, but in the short term help is at hand. Take the example of Laura.

Laura sought support from one of our expert helpline counsellors after suffering a number of panic attacks and found that talking to someone helped her to put her situation into context and “realise that my experiences are not in isolation and that others have similar experiences”.

She found that it helped her make a decision to change her working pattern, putting her and her family’s needs first. It “made me calmer and able to think more clearly”, she said.

Likewise, our free life-guides, including one on the topic of “handling stress”, help you to look out for warning signs, build stress prevention (anything from getting enough rest to switching off our phones), and create simple strategies to deal with stress (practising relaxation techniques and reducing sources of stress where possible).

In recent days, the Nottingham Education Improvement Board has launched a regional “Fair Workload Charter”, encouraging local schools to sign up to a “hallmark” demonstrating a clear marking policy and annual review of workload policy.

We recognise and understand how important tackling such issues are to good mental health and wellbeing. Nearly half (46 per cent) of teachers responding in our annual health survey told us that mental health would improve in their workplace if their employer had to meet independently regulated high standards for staff.

In addition to our confidential counselling, we offer a range of workplace training and courses for leaders and staff to tackle some of these issues head-on and avert crises.

So this week, World Mental Health Day may seem another reminder of what is currently going wrong in secondary schools, but it is also a prompt for us to look at what we can positively do to stem and in some cases reverse what is happening to teachers as individuals.

Investment in mental health should not be overlooked. Putting good practices in place can produce significant improvements, not only in the professional and personal lives of staff, but for the outcomes of the pupils they teach.

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of Education Support Partnership, a charity supporting those working in education.

Further information

For help or advice contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 and for details of other support services, visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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