Teacher wellbeing: Mental Health Awareness Month.

mental health awareness
Mental Health Awareness month has arrived, giving a safe place for people to raise awareness on wellbeing and the effects of mental health. But how do we support those in the education workplace? Read more...

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Mental Health Awareness

The mental health month is the UK’s national month to promote awareness of mental health and any difficulties that come with it. This month inspires the actions of thousands of people to speak out on a subject that still to this day, is a bit of a taboo.

The mental health month starts the 1st of May and lasts all the way up until the 31st. However, the Mental Health Foundation (which was founded all the way back in 1949) has been organising allocated weeks to really raise awareness for those who have struggled for the past twenty-one years – this year, the week starts the 10th of May until the 16th.  This week has become increasingly popular throughout the UK and the world, giving people a safe place to talk about mental health and how to help those who struggle.

Talking about mental health not only normalises and removes the stigma but also ensures that the community acknowledges the struggles some people might tackle every day thus creating a society that believes and supports mental health.

The Mental Health Awareness week theme:

The Mental Health Awareness foundation announced that this year, the theme for the week would be nature. This was inspired due to the national lockdown of COVID-19.

Nature is everywhere we go. However, sadly during the pandemic, some people did not have access to nature or a park to enjoy the fresh air. Being able to step outside to breathe in some air and have a walk can be very beneficial to some – however this might not be the case for all, that’s why mental health awareness week focuses on making sure that everyone has the chance to share what nature means to them.

To find out more, click here!

How to promote mental health:

There are many ways we can promote mental health, but the first one is: do not judge someone’s journey – we all handle things differently, that is what makes us inherently unique. It is important to understand that some people manage things differently than others, and each way is completely valid. As humans, we naturally look for ways to self soothe, so what might work for someone might not work for you.

So how do we spread awareness in schools?

  • Talk to those around you, and really listen. Occasionally, people struggle to communicate their emotions therefore if we listen, we can understand.
  • If comfortable, share your story – this makes others who may feel similarly to you not feel alone.
  • Encourage the awareness – call out any harmful stigmatising language towards mental health. It doesn’t hurt to be kind.
  • Educate yourself on mental health – you can pass any new information you have learned to your peers. It is normal and natural not to understand all mental health, but that is why it is important to work on subjects we do not understand avoiding misconceptions. This education should include talking with students too, keeping in mind their age and what is appropriate to discuss.
  • Volunteer if you can to mental health organisations.
  • Set healthy boundaries that promote our wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of those who surround us.

The education sector and mental health:

As teachers and other workers in the education system juggle a multitude of tasks and student demands – especially through the Covid-19 Pandemic where teachers are faced with classrooms with up to 30 children and still abide by the social distance protocols. It is important that they get the right emotional support, so they can continue to successfully aid students who need support– not only this, emotional support can reduce burnouts and lack of motivation when it comes to completing tasks – this positively results in a lower staff turnover, absences and also promote positivity within the staff community.

According to Hugh Clench, a wellbeing expert from OLT International, there are many aspects of wellbeing when considering the challenges teachers meet through out their work, them being: Cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Challenges in any of these may cause a person to have a burnout or suffer from anxiety.

Christmas Activities: Five fun ideas for your classroom.

To feel comfortable, it is suggested that the SLT builds an environment where staff can trust one another, feel valued, and know where and how to access support when they need it. SLT must hard towards that mentality in the workplace, they can do this by setting an example and practising good mental health and wellbeing coping mechanisms. There should be a clear way to communicate one’s needs to meet them correctly. After all, if we all support one another, it is much easier to get things done!

Click picture to read full study.

How to support your staff:

Good staff wellbeing is incredibly important for things to runs smoothly, it gives space for creating a safe and healthy school environment as well as pupil wellbeing.

A survey conducted by the Institute of Education and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research found that although over 55% of workers in the education industry feel like their work affects their wellbeing positively, 19% stated that it does not at all. This percentage is nearly a fifth of the overall result, and even though it is a small finding it does highlight the need for mental health awareness and support in schools. Whereas a study conducted by Leeds Beckett University found that “Most teachers agreed that a teacher’s wellbeing affects their performance as an education professional, especially their ability to teach in the classroom” (You may read the whole study here: LBU, 2019) this furthers the belief of the importance of supporting staff thought their work life.

By thinking about the school’s culture and ethos, you can start to build an environment that encourages others to support one another when times get tough. If you are a headteacher or an SLT, think to yourself the following questions:

Are staff encouraged to seek support if needed? Do staff feel appreciated? Could an arrangement of weekly informal meetings work towards bringing the team closer? Are there any activities that could help relax staff and bring them together at the same time?

Here are some tips we believe could help you support your staff or colleagues:

  1. By setting an example
  2. By setting up policies that allow teachers to express themselves comfortably – are the policies fair for all applicable staff?
  3. A wellbeing strategy produced by staff and governors, even parents!
  4. Supplying wellbeing courses or sessions.
  5. Workshops that provide healthy coping mechanisms
  6. Creating a sense of belonging, valuing the work teachers do.
  7. Encouraging the buddy approach – teachers can team up with one another to provide support when needed.
  8. Making staff and pupil recognition part of the school’s culture.

You can also:

  • Conduct a confidential staff wellbeing survey
  • Promote wellbeing for staff.
  • Be clear about what support is available.

You can find more details and resources on how to achieve each one at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.

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