According to a recent study, more than half of Britain’s teachers have a diagnosed mental health problem, with 76% of education professionals experiencing behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work in the last year.With separate research revealing that over a third of education professionals are expected to leave the profession by 2020, it’s clear that schools and academies urgently need to address this mental health crisis within education.
The importance of teacher mental health
Teacher mental health issues are important because they not only have a detrimental influence on teachers themselves, but also directly affect classroom outcomes. One study into this showed that 77% of teachers felt poor mental health was having a damaging effect on pupil mental health, and 85% said that it adversely affected the quality of lesson planning.
Building supportive cultures
In order to tackle the crisis head on, school leaders need to build open and supportive wellbeing cultures. With a recent study showing that almost one third of UK employees claim that they do not feel comfortable talking to their manager about mental health problems for fear of being judged, this is clearly a pressing issue.By adopting ‘open-door’ policies, and encouraging staff to share their issues, school leaders can ensure that problems can be appropriately addressed. A mentoring or buddy system could also be implemented– with this being especially useful for new members of staff, a high-risk group for mental health problems. Others initiative such as wellbeing surveys, training staff as mental health first aiders, and a provision of personal mental health guidance during teacher training are also all ways to achieve this.
Offering extra training and development to staff is often recommended as a method to boost retention, with studiesshowing higherlevels of effective training have been proven to reduce desire to move schools. One paper indicated that improving professional development by just one standard deviation showsa 63% reductionin the chance that a teacher will move to another school. With the evidence showing that training and development opportunities makes teachers more likely stay at a school, therefore suggesting that they feel content and settled, school leaders should actively encourage staff to regularly participate in CPD.
Workload is the most cited cause of mental health problems and a main reason for teachers leaving. Therefore, schools that offer arrangements such as job-sharing will find it far easier to retain staff, and alleviate some of the problems around this.While the DfE has been working to develop strategies to help schools manage workload, there are still some methods leaders can implement right now. For instance, setting limits on after-school meetings and ensuring that only relevant staff are present, making sure employees take break and lunch times, and not setting expectations for immediate email responses, or even restricting the hours when emails can be sent, will all go some way towards helping.
Mindfulness and CBT
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a therapy that teaches individuals to observe the way their behaviour and thoughts affect their mood, and then build new patterns to avoid letting these thoughts have negative effects. Second only to medication, CBT has been identifiedas an extremely effective treatment for mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. Exercises such as meditation are also proven to improve mental health. By training people to bring more awareness to thoughts and feelings, they can be better managed and not become overwhelming. One study found that mindfulness techniques significantly reduced stress of participants when practiced over three months. Another study revealed that meditation can reduce the brain tissue associated with anxiety and worrying. By offering these options, along with other activities such as yoga, and physical exercise classes’, schools would be able to provide easy to implement, powerful methods of improving mental health.
Small things can make a change
There are many different approaches that school leaders can take in order to alleviate the mental health crisis, and there really is no ‘Holy Grail.’ People will all react differently to certain methods, making the best approach to build open and supportive cultures which allow help to start with the individual and work out what suits them best. However, this does not mean that schools shouldn’t try as many things as possible, and there are certain methods which are both very beneficial for mental health, and easy to put into action. By making small positive adjustments, over the long term, meaningful change can occur for teachers, students, and school leaders.