‘Wellbeing must continue to be a priority’ – head of wellbeing at Mind

Emma Mamo tells IET how schools can best look after staff mental health

Are employees in other sectors simply better at keeping professional and workload boundaries compared to teachers?

It’s not about teachers being any better or worse than other professions at managing their mental health… they face a unique set of pressures which means their mental health is more likely to suffer compared to other professions.

Smart employers know that organisations are only as strong as their people – they depend on having a healthy, productive workforce – and good mental health underpins this.

How can teachers best model healthy lives for the children they teach?

Teachers do an incredibly challenging role every day, and most people go into the profession because they want to get the best out of their children and help them thrive. We know that staff who work for employers where they feel valued and supported are more loyal and productive, and teachers are no exception.

Many in the education sector believe the common causes of poor mental health amongst teachers can be linked to structural factors such as pay, working hours and staffing issues. Given this, many leaders and unions feel that major organisational reforms are necessary to fully prioritise the wellbeing of both school staff and students alike.

There are a number of practical self-care habits and healthy behaviours that teachers can strive to incorporate into their daily routines. Practising the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ (New Economic Foundations) advises connecting with other people, staying physically active, being mindful of feelings, learning or practising a skill or hobby, and giving back.

Can education take its cue from other sectors in managing employee mental health?

At Mind, we know that mental health problems aren’t limited to one or two sectors. Not only is prioritising staff wellbeing the responsible thing to do, but it also makes business sense. Employers that do invest in the mental health of their employees are likely to make savings in the long run, through improved staff morale and productivity, as well as employees taking fewer sick days. Analysis by Deloitte showed employers see a £5.30 return for every £1 invested in workplace wellbeing initiatives. It’s not just about having these in place, but making sure that they are well promoted, easy to access, and suitable to the needs of the workforce.

What are the after-effects from the pandemic and what after-care has there been for teachers?

Teaching can be a challenging and absorbing profession at the best of times, and educational professionals were at risk of higher rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. These systemic issues were exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic and subsequent school closures and lockdowns, so now more than ever, we all appreciate the immense sacrifices made by teachers on a daily basis. Teaching staff worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, often putting students’ needs before their own, to the detriment of their mental wellbeing.

As we emerge from the pandemic, initiatives like the Education staff wellbeing charter which commit to promoting the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education, are encouraging signs of the sector’s dedication to supporting staff. Mind is proud to be a co-creator of the charter, alongside the Department for Education, major unions, charities, schools and Ofsted. Wellbeing must continue to be a priority as we navigate future variants, outbreaks and even restrictions, especially with more teachers than ever reaching breaking point and reporting distressing psychological symptoms.

Did we learn lessons from the pandemic, about teachers’ mental health?

Teachers have been on the frontline of the pandemic since March 2020, working long hours while often lacking the necessary protective or preventative measures. Teachers in England log some of the country’s longest working hours, and increasing numbers of staff plan on leaving the profession altogether. Thanks to home-schooling and school closures, many of us gained a new sense of respect for the vital work teachers do, so it’s key we utilise this to start addressing the rising rates of poor mental health in the profession.

What would you advise schools do to look after teacher mental health?

  • Create a culture of openness
    Regular one-to-one meetings and catch-ups are a great way to ask your staff how they’re getting on. Doing so regularly will help build trust and give employees a chance to raise problems at an early stage, which will save time later on.
  • Mental health literacy
    Raise people’s awareness about the need to build their resilience and look after their well-being. You can do this by making the most of internal communications channels-blogs, myth-busters, factsheets, tips for staff and managers, and FAQs to promote ways to manage well-being. You can use posters, noticeboards, staff newsletters, intranet pages to provide information on maintaining a healthy work-life balance and ask staff to share their top tips on how they manage their mental health.
  • Embed mental health in induction and training
    Give staff information on how mental health is managed and what support is available as part of their induction. Mental health awareness training, particularly for managers, can also help, as long as it’s put into practice.
  • Create a buddy system
    These build and strengthen relationships between colleagues and provide a way to chat about wellbeing and challenges in an informal setting.
  • Encourage mental health ‘champions’
    People at all levels talking openly about mental health sends a clear message that staff will get support if they’re experiencing a mental health problem and that this is not a barrier to career development.
  • Tackle the causes
    Routinely take stock of the school’s mental health and wellbeing on an organisational, department/team, and individual level.
  • Develop tailored support for individuals when needed
    Make an action plan that covers: what keeps you well at work, workplace triggers and early warning signs, impact of mental health problem on performance, steps for the line manager to take, and steps for the individual to take.
  • Sign up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment and Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index

You might also like: ‘Soaring rates of mental ill health are prompting schools to refresh their wellbeing strategies’


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