Mental health and you

Following on from lockdown and a return to work, never has it been more imperative to acknowledge and care for your own mental health and the mental wellbeing of your pupils.

There is no denying the stigma around mental health is slowly being eradicated. However, with fears we are in the midst of an upcoming mental health crisis, as a teacher it is critical you care for your own mental health and ensure your pupils know the signs.

Although discussions around mental health have advanced, often mental health is not talked about as openly as physical health – and this needs to change.

Positive culture

By creating a positive culture around mental health in the workplace there is an increased chance you and other members of staff will feel confident when discussing if they feel overwhelmed.

“Working in a school can be extremely rewarding, but it is also demanding both physically and emotionally,” says Joanne Aitken, children and young people development manager at Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

“Busy workloads, including supporting pupils with emotional and behavioural needs, can lead to additional pressures; so, it’s really important to take time to maintain your own wellbeing.

“We know that talking about our mental health is a great way to look after our wellbeing, it can also help to break down the stigma around mental health and create a positive work culture for everyone.

“Talking and sharing experiences with colleagues, especially during the return to school after lockdown, can help us ease back in to the school routine.”

The General Teaching Council (GTC) Scotland echo the importance of speaking out and opening up, providing a range of resources promoting mental health and wellbeing in the classroom post coronavirus.

Open discussions

From providing valuable insights from health and wellbeing professionals within the GTC’s webinar recordings, to interviews with Scottish education professionals on how they coped with lockdown during Brew and a Blether – you can connect with your peers to discover new coping mechanisms.

With open and honest discussions on mental health and wellbeing, we can build a society that is confident when discussing mental health.

Joanne continues: “For a long time, the stigma surrounding mental health has prevented conversations from happening in communities, schools, and in the teaching profession. We’re now starting to see mental health discussed more openly in education, and with it, a recognition that schools play a vital role in educating and supporting young people.”

And education resources are available to help your pupils, too.

We all have mental health

Confidence when interacting with pupils around mental health is important. However, there’s no denying it can be daunting or worrying to discuss difficult matters around mental health, self-harming or even suicide.

With young people spending the majority of their time in the classroom or school environment, at some points you may be the closest person to a pupil or their only confidante.

“We know that teachers very often don’t feel well equipped to recognise when students may be struggling and confident to lead a mental health conversation,” Joanne adds.

In fact, during a survey in 2017 two-thirds of teachers expressed they didn’t feel confident when supporting a student with mental health concerns.

SAMH’s We All Have Mental Health: An Introduction for Teachers e-learning resource is dedicated to providing teachers will the skills and knowledge to recognise mental health problems in pupils and how best to respond, which will be incredibly beneficial post lockdown.

Joanne emphasises: “The important thing is if you see there is a problem not to ignore it, and remember you do not have to be an expert in mental health to offer support.”

Working as a whole school approach, there are better opportunities to offer advice. SAMH have seen positive feedback from teachers who have completed the e-leaning resource in relation to their confidence when recognising mental health problems in their pupils.

In fact, 1,600 teachers accessed the resource in June alone – but, maintaining your own mental wellbeing is critical.

Your health

Mental health conditions can impact your physical health if they are left to linger. From burnout, stress due to increasing workloads, or anxiety getting back into the classroom, it is important you care for your own mental health.

“If your workload is becoming unmanageable, and is affecting your mental health, share your concerns with your line manager or a trusted colleague and explore what support could be offered,” advises Joanne.

“Similarly, support your colleagues and feel able to ask ‘are you OK?’

“Even if there’s a lot on, getting the right work-life balance is important, where possible, try and separate out home and work. Try to wind down from work, and especially before bedtime. Try to find out what you can about your Employee Assistance Programmes; these services are often free and are there to be accessed when staff need them most.”

Sharing any concerns with a colleague or manager around workload, challenging behaviour to managing your time, this can help if you are feeling overwhelmed in the classroom. It’s important to know, just like your pupils, you are not alone in your emotions and there is support available. From colleagues to charities, there is help available.

These are unprecedented times, and now is the moment to ensure positive mental attitudes are incorporated across the school environment.

Additional support and advice is available from SAMH and the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

If you are in crisis call Samaritans on 116 123 or 999 in an emergency.