It can be hard to ask for help for ourselves. Is making help mandatory the solution?
We talk about well-being and mental health of teachers a lot in Education in Chemistry. We even have a section of our website dedicated to the topic. While we’d love the reason for this to be just that we’re particularly passionate about teacher well-being, the truth is there’s a vitally urgent crisis of ill health in the teaching profession.
Education Support have published their 2020 Teacher wellbeing index report – a measured, yet sobering, insight into the pressures teachers are wrestling with. According to the study, 62% of respondents describe themselves as stressed, while the majority (53%) don’t feel they receive enough guidance about their mental health or well-being at work.
57% of teachers and education professionals are uncomfortable sharing issues of mental health
The study also found that 57% – the majority – of teachers and education professionals are uncomfortable sharing issues of mental health or unmanageable stress with their employer. This is remarkable, but it might not even be because employers aren’t willing to help.
Building a healthier culture
I recently asked a friend of mine, a teacher and line manager, about the support available in their workplace. They spoke about paid-for counselling and support schemes. Their school was always willing to help staff who needed it. But they found that whenever teachers were offered this help, it was always declined.
Why are teachers finding help hard to ask for? And why, when it’s being offered, do they not take it? Education Support suggest three reasons: the worry of being perceived negatively; the worry of being seen as weak; and stigma surrounding mental health issues.
We have an awful culture of micro-accountability in teaching. A culture of overwork, of disempowerment, of top-down regimes addressing perceived failings. In such a workplace, it’s not unreasonable that moments of genuine, well-intentioned care are drowned out. The risks of asking for help are too great.
The teaching profession would be healthier if we acknowledged the stresses it causes
I’m reminded, in contrast, of some roles in healthcare where counselling is compulsory. Workers in these roles are regularly dealing with the most frail, most hopeless, and most heart-rending cases and situations. I learned, to my surprise, that the counselling isn’t compulsory because everyone needs it – it’s compulsory to prevent those who need it having to ask for it.
Perhaps we need a similar culture in teaching? Should we have compulsory peer support groups? Maybe independent workload assessments? The teaching profession would be healthier if we acknowledged the stresses it causes most practitioners and actively supported everyone without having to make 62% of them own up to needing it.
In the meantime, I love Education Support’s approach to supporting your colleagues. Show your appreciation, even for small things. It’s a reminder that we can all improve our workplaces and the lives of our colleagues.
And if you’re struggling, and don’t know who to speak to, Education Support have a 24/7 helpline: it’s free and confidential. Call them on 08000 562 561.