Mental health: you're not alone

New research from a UK insurance company has claimed that a quarter of those in teaching have been prescribed or are taking medication to help manage work-related anxiety. Of course, our sector is not unique in this problem and according to UK charity the Mental Health Foundation, mental health issues are the leading national cause of sickness absence in the workplace.

As many as 70 million work days are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, annually costing employers approximately £2.4 billion.

Back in education, our annual Health Survey earlier this year found that 77 per cent of our 2,000 respondents had suffered from stress within the past year and 60 per cent from anxiety. Of those who had suffered from any form of mental illness as a result of work, 85 per cent said this had contributed to problems sleeping, 57 per cent experienced mood swings, and 31 per cent panic attacks. So what can be done to alleviate or even prevent this epidemic of mental health problems in the sector?

As a charity for all of those working in the education sector, we recognise that medication can be an extremely valuable solution to mental health problems. However, we also know that there are many other helpful interventions that can be used alongside or even instead of this approach. What’s more, we are firm believers in the old adage that prevention is always better than cure.

Prevention

As a charity, we work hard to find ways to prevent the problems those in teaching might face, while also offering services to help cure the symptoms many do experience.

Our charity’s services help school leaders to put effective programmes of support in place to better manage their teams, take the “temperature” of the workplace, and put in place processes to build positive school cultures. Not all problems can be cured in this way of course, but a focus on organisational development is a good place to start.

In our experience the main cause of many of these problems is the pressure of the on-going recruitment and retention crisis. Some of the preventative measures we would like to see from ministers include:

  1. Slowing the pace of curriculum and national education policy change.
  2. Stronger guidance to enable school leaders to provide support for staff in order to create more positive cultures in schools.
  3. A reduction in workload.

Cure

Sadly, prevention is a long road, and so in the short-term more needs to be done to provide a cure. One of our contributions to a “portfolio” approach of solutions comes in the form of our free helpline.

Through this we provide thousands of those in education with talking and listening therapies, and occasionally connect individuals to appropriate additional help through GPs or external counselling services. Often just talking to our helpline staff is the first step towards feeling better.

More widely, though, to manage or reduce the stress many teachers experience we regularly suggest the following:

  • Exercise three/four times a week, reducing muscle tension.
  • Minimise in-take of sugar, caffeine and other artificial stimulants.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Practise at least one relaxation exercise.
  • Rise 15 minutes earlier in the morning (making morning mishaps less stressful).
  • Listen to music.
  • Make time for fun.
  • Unplug your phone.

If you are suffering from anxiety or related problems please don’t suffer in silence. Make contact with someone you know who might be able to help in your school, get more tips and ideas from our free Life Guides or, like many others, call our helpline (see below).

How we can help

  • Help for individuals  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for organisations 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.