Better first aid is needed for mental health in the education sector

School boards should be doing more to prioritise the mental wellbeing of their staff.

According to the fourth Mental Health at Work Report1 by BITC, 39% of employees experienced poor mental health due to work last year. However, the same research revealed that the percentage of employees that feel their manager is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing fell from 60% to 57%.

This is troubling when considering that the Mental Health Foundation have concluded2 that all workplaces have a responsibility to improve employee health and help prevent the onset of conditions that negatively affect an individual’s wellbeing. There is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues and many people feel uncomfortable discussing them openly with their employers and co-workers.

Thankfully, many UK workplaces have started taking steps to prioritise their employees’ mental health, recognising the need for transparency and support. One of the sectors that will benefit the most from this culture change is education.

Education professionals are faced with growing pressure in their workplace. This includes everything from increased workload to lack of support, budget cuts, fewer staff and demands to meet the high standards set by governing bodies. According to last year’s Teachers Wellbeing Index3, 75% of all education staff have faced physical or mental health issues in the last two years because of their work.

It should be worth schools considering if they require staff that are trained to provide first aid for fellow employees facing conditions like stress or depression. After all, if it is a legal requirement to have staff trained in medical first aid in case of emergencies, then why not have individuals that can provide first aid for mental health as well?

This would go a long way towards reducing teacher absences and improving satisfaction levels. Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)4, show that depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 54% of all working days lost due to ill health, amounting to 12.8 million total working days lost. This is something that should be minimised within a sector as vital as education, where staff are responsible for the education and wellbeing of children and young adults.

Offering awareness training for those in leadership roles can be a simple, long term solution for schools. This provides management staff with the knowledge to spot signs of mental ill-health, equipping them with the skills to help teachers and other education support staff. Equally, a mental health first aid course for the entire staff team can help to break down the stigmas associated with issues like depression.

As an example, Cantium Business Solutions works with Mental Health First Aid England to provide comprehensive training on how to support mental health in the workplace. Depending on the organisation, this can be to train a designated Mental Health First Aider or to provide onsite training for up to 15 members of staff. This training can be designed and tailored to fit the needs of school staff, improving each member of staff’s mindset and changing the workplace culture for the better.

While public awareness of mental health issues may be growing, an increasingly demanding work environment can make it hard for education staff to talk about their problems and receive adequate support. By integrating wellness into the school staff culture through dedicated mental health first aiders, school boards can create a more positive environment regarding mental health issues. This is one way of helping to reduce teacher absences due to poor mental health, improve staff enjoyment and, as a result, improve their work performance.

Every school should be looking to prioritise this approach, both for the benefit of their staff and the children that they teach. Teachers should be able to create a stable and supportive environment for pupils, and mental health first aid can ensure that they themselves are receiving the right level of support in overcoming any issues that may be affecting their mental health.

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