Half-Term Is Here, Let’s Discuss Teacher’s Mental Health.
Well, I had vowed not to get too excited but I can no longer help myself.. its half term, and OMG (as the young’uns would say) am I looking forward to it! This term has been a struggle. I am happy to admit that. I have cried…. On a couple of occasions… Okay, maybe a few, but who’s counting right?!
I seem to have been permanently ill since the 2nd week of term. I think after leaving teaching for a few years, my immunity to all the vast selection of germs has decreased. It reached its pinnacle on Friday afternoon as my voice became huskier and quieter as the afternoon progressed. By Golden Time, I was super happy to not need to talk much for half an hour. On the way home I couldn’t even belt out ‘This is me’ from the Greatest Showman when it came on the radio… I should probably just clarify now that I drive to and from work!
I am sure it is not news to you, but just in case you missed it, a couple of weeks ago it was World Mental Health Day! Although I am not sure that it is possible to miss it now, as it tends to get quite a bit of coverage. I know that whilst driving to work, Radio 2 (I am now at that age where Radio 1 does nothing for me, and I have reluctantly accepted my fate as a Radio 2 listener) was entertaining the nation with a variety of tunes that helped the presenter through her own dark days.
I am so glad that Mental Health has now become something that more people are willing to discuss openly, it’s just a pity that it takes ‘having a special day’ to raise that awareness.
So what has that meant for us teachers? I wonder if schools have taken the day to talk more to their pupils about Mental Health, or whether school management teams have taken measures to ensure they are supporting their staff’s mental well-being? I did some research (as always)… According to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) ‘Stress, depression or anxiety is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence’. Last year, Teaching Unions were quoted warning that there was an ‘epidemic of stress’ and that 3,750 teachers were at that time signed off long term, due to pressure of work, anxiety and depression. Apparently, that was a rise of 5% from the previous year, with 1 in 83 teachers off work.
In their 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index, The Education Support Partnership state that 31% of educational staff say they have experienced a mental health condition in the last year, that nearly 1 in 5 have experienced panic attacks, 56% have had insomnia or difficulties sleeping and 41% have had difficulty concentration. These statistics should be shocking, but, like many reading this, I’m not particularly surprised.
Whether you are new to the profession, a fresh faced NQT, or a long time, hard-core-being-doing-it for more than 5 years (because apparently many of us don’t last over that), I am sure you have had some personal experience with Stress, Anxiety and/or Mental Health problems. In our job it is hard not to. On a daily basis we face huge pressures from workload and accountability. Emotionally, we invest ourselves in the lives of a class full of little humans who, whilst being so new to the world, are already facing so many pressures from all around.
So what is being done about it? Well apparently, 65% of educational staff would not feel confident ‘in disclosing mental health problems or unmanageable stress to their employer’. Are we just not sharing our feelings? Why do we have such a fear of disclosing the true state of our mental states? If we cannot be honest, then how can we get support?!
Now I am not, for one minute, trying to say that we should all go and have a cuppa and chat about our mental turmoils with our management on Monday morning, but really, don’t we need to get to the root of the issue? I believe that we don’t openly discuss our mental health because there is still stigma… Even with ‘World Mental Health Day’, people wearing yellow, buying ribbons, and apparently one college somewhere in the UK getting in therapy dogs and ponies (oh, how I would have loved that!), there is still stigma. We may think that if we disclose our mental health issues, we could be judged, could be deemed unsuitable or incapable of our jobs. I sincerely hope that that would never be the case, but I do think in some ways, that fear is always there, whether genuinely perceived or not.
Really, we can actually be the people to change this perceived stigma. We can push for more education in schools about Mental Health, for teachers and children, and hope that in years to come, teachers can be more open with their management about their mental health and seek the support when they need it.
But until then, if you are stressed, suffering with anxiety, or having a real issue with your mental health, remember- you are not on your own. Most teachers are experiencing or have experienced the same, and honestly, sometimes just a little chat (or a rant) with a colleague who understands can make a huge difference.
There are also a huge variety of resources available online that offer support for teachers mental well-being and tpet.co.uk are now offering support via #WellbeingWednesday!
I’m Heather Miller and I qualified as a Primary teacher in 2014. Since qualifying, I have trained as a Forest School leader and undertaken additional qualifications in Children and Young People’s Mental Health. I have just returned to teaching after a couple of years away from the classroom, and as if that isn’t challenging enough- I have also just started my MA Ed! At home I live with my 2 children; my 11-year-old daughter and my 9-month-old son, my partner, two cats and two rabbits!