Teacher wellbeing: the benefits for children's mental health | Education Support
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Children's mental health and teacher wellbeing

Teacher wellbeing: the benefits for children's mental health

2nd February 2021

If we are serious about Children’s Mental Health, we must also take action to support those who teach, guide and inspire children to imagine their own futures argues Faye McGuinness, our Director of Programmes. 

This year Children’s Mental Health Week arrives at a time when mental health is high on the national agenda as we collectively try to navigate the third lockdown. When Place2Be established the annual awareness raiser in 2015 it cannot have pictured that by 2021 discussion would be dominated by school closures and nationwide home schooling. With so many challenges, there has never been a better time to invite children and those who teach them to express themselves.

Children are feeling the emotional impact of the pandemic from every direction. They share the worries of their families and friends; they absorb grief via the media or experience it directly; and they may spend the day with stressed or bereaved teachers in the classroom.

This is all occurring in a context where child poverty is rising1, and an increased number of children are homeless or living in temporary accommodation2.These issues existed before but have been compounded by the pandemic. The gap in learning and attainment between children of the highest and lowest income families has been further widened3. The children who have lost six months of normal education could lose an average of £40,000 in income over their career4. These factors affect children’s life chances, and teachers and school staff face them every day.

It is therefore unsurprising that Place2Be estimates that one in six school-aged children in the UK now has a diagnosable mental disorder, an increase from one in nine in 2017. To improve this picture, in addition to taking direct steps to improve children’s mental health, we must act to improve the mental health of all teachers and education staff.

The teachers, support staff and teaching assistants who work with children each day not only need the necessary training and guidance to identify and help a child who is struggling, but they also need  access to support to help themselves withstand the difficult situations that are becoming increasingly common. Only through a culture where their own wellbeing is prioritised can teachers be the role models we need them to be. More now than ever, teachers and school staff, need to put on their own oxygen mask on first.

Yet, 2020 saw a worrying increase in symptoms of poor mental health among school staff (including difficulty concentrating, insomnia and tearfulness), as well as high rates of stress when schools returned in the autumn.

The theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week is ‘express yourself’ but a significant stigma persists that prevents teachers and staff from discussing their own difficulties. Our research shows that over half (57%) of teachers and education staff do not feel confident disclosing unmanageable levels of stress at work. They told us the main reason for not talking to anyone is that they are worried it will reflect badly on them.

We also know that access to formal supervision, as a space dedicated to discussing emotional concerns that arise on the job, is very low. Our research shows that just eight percent of education staff reported having access to this type of safe space. This is particularly alarming when we remember that each school has a Designated Safeguarding Lead who may be dealing with emotionally challenging issues on a regular basis.

If we are serious about Children’s Mental Health, we must also take action to support those who teach, guide and inspire children to imagine their own futures. Due to the pandemic, the mental health of children and their teachers has become a matter of national recovery, as well as social mobility.

We’re proud to support Place2Be’s Young London SOS campaign to provide mental health support for more pupils in more schools. We also support improved access to supervision among those teachers facing the most difficult safeguarding issues, where problems have been compounded by the pandemic.

Teachers – and all front line workers – are not superheroes, but human beings like everyone else. This means that their everyday needs, such as the need for rest, and the need to talk about their feelings, mustn’t be overlooked.

This Children’s Mental Health Week we invite school staff to ‘express yourself’ and reach out for support should you need it

We have produced a wide range of mental health support for education professionals specific to the Coronavirus pandemic 

Call us, You’ll feel better. Our free, confidential helpline is available to all education professionals in the UK 24/7 to talk through any worries. 08000 562 561.