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Gareth D Morewood

Mental health as a whole-school concern

In a school environment it is not just the pupils who may suffer mental health issues. Gareth D. Morewood reminds us that supporting staff through stressful situations is equally important.

It has been reported recently that pupils' mental health tops headteachers' concerns. However, I think it is also imperative to remember the mental health and support of staff, and to consider a truly whole-school approach to understanding and supporting the stresses both pupils and adults are facing in the current educational climate.

Rise in numbers

An important additional concern, perhaps not so widely reported, is that by 2024 nearly 3.3 million pupils are expected to be attending state-funded secondaries, compared with just over 2.7 million in 2015, a rise of 547,000. The Department for Education released the latest pupil projection figures on 22nd July: this not only highlights the issue of increasing numbers across all schools, but also raises awareness of the significantly increased pressure on the mainstream-special cohorts. During these times of significant educational change, not to mention the massive workloads that have developed as a result, positive mental health is vital to successful learning – not just for pupils, but for all!

Thinking about staff mental health

Back in 2007 I wrote the following about teachers’ stress and mental health: ‘It is not just students who experience mental health difficulties. Teachers are allowed to have mental health problems too! Being stressed, anxious, depressed or having panic attacks is not a sign of personal weakness. Not seeking help when needed is. Everyone needs a certain amount of pressure to function effectively. Stress however, is a reaction to what individuals experience as excessive pressure and is one of the most common causes of mental ill health. Ill health due to work-related stress is by no means uncommon in teaching and many teachers have experienced it at some point in their careers. Currently the risks are significant; the mental health of the educational workforce should be an equal priority to that of the young people in our schools. There is a lot of talk about pupil mental health and rightly so, however, that of staff seems to be a lower priority. There is a significant need to change the discourse and ensure staff wellbeing and mental health is considered as well as that of our young people. To ensure the stigma around mental health continues to be challenged, educating young people and staff is an important part. The summer break is there for a reason – to re-charge, take time to reflect and consider our own needs as a priority.

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