World Mental Health Day: it's good to talk!

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is workplace wellbeing and whilst our jobs can be a source of great satisfaction, they may also be a source of unreasonable pressure and stress.  The importance of wellbeing in every area of life cannot be over-estimated, yet can be so easily overlooked by those working in a field as demanding as education.

Looking after yourself in the short and long term is an essential investment but can often be something that comes very low on your list of priorities.

Simply talking about and sharing your worries, concerns and stress should be an essential part of looking after ourselves, preventing bigger issues to develop. But although it sounds simple, it is not something that comes easily to a significant number of teachers and education professionals. In response to our latest YouGov research for our annual Health Survey, nearly a quarter (23%) of teachers and school leaders who had experienced a mental health issue told us that they hadn’t spoken to anyone about their problems, rising to 27% of men. Amongst those who hadn’t experienced a problem, 22% said that they would not talk to anyone about it if they had an issue in the future.

This is despite our research revealing poorer mental health and wellbeing in education than elsewhere in the workforce. Three quarters (75%) of the 1250 staff we surveyed said they had experienced psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms because of work, significantly higher than the UK working population overall (62%).

In education, the stigma surrounding talking about common mental health issues including stress, anxiety or depression can mean many in the field leave it too late and are experiencing major problems before talking to a professional. Typically, when people call our confidential helpline most are already in a state of crisis. With workload and accountability pressures at an all-time high, the need for good quality support has perhaps never been greater. Our YouGov survey also revealed that many education professionals seem to be experiencing higher levels of stress than the wider workforce. 29% in education told us they had felt stressed ‘most’ or ‘all’ of the time recently compared with 18% elsewhere.

Anna* has been a helpline counsellor with Education Support Partnership for the past four years. In her experience teachers often share similar personality traits; hard working perfectionists who hold a very strong work ethic and strong loyalty to both children and their colleagues. She describes typical callers: 

“When people phone us they’re in a state of crisis, panic, high distress. I’ve had people phoning in before the start of class having a panic attack. I’ve had teachers phoning in being physically ill because they are so distressed. When people call it’s almost like a last chance. They’re feeling absolutely desperate and things have been building up for quite some time.”

Victoria, a head of department in a secondary school, was on the verge of leaving the profession when she called us for help;

“The workload was relentless and despite asking for support to look where I could cut it down, I received no guidance. I became exhausted and as a result broke down in front of my class.”

After a school holiday she returned for the new term and when she stepped into her classroom, knew that she couldn’t be there. Having found someone to speak to at work, she broke down and was sent home for the rest of the day. The next day she knew if she didn’t speak to someone she would never go back to work. That was when she called our helpline. “Without that first phone call I can guarantee I would have left teaching” she said.

There are so many benefits of talking. There are times when it is easier to talk to a stranger than friends or those close to you and this can be particularly beneficial in relation to problems at work. Talking can really help any of us to see how to shed light, give us a better perspective on or get through a problem.

For anyone working in education, whatever you need, we’re here for you 24/7. Our trained counsellors will listen without judgement and help find a way forwards and to feel better. It’s also important to remember that no problem is too big or too small so don’t wait if you’re not able to resolve a concern. As the old saying goes; you cannot pour from an empty cup.