Time to talk mental health

Time to Talk — mental health in the classroom

We mark this year’s Time to Talk Day by exploring how teachers can make their classrooms as mental health-friendly as possible — for students and teachers alike.

Mental health in the classroom is a growing problem. In an average group of thirty 15-year-olds, seven are likely to have been bullied, six may be self-harming and one may have experienced the death of a parent. In addition, the added pressure of acceptance among peers and the stigma around mental health create a climate where young people often opt to suffer in silence rather than seek help.

And that’s just the students. Around three-quarters of teachers say they have experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to work. One in four say they have experienced depression or anxiety. An October 2018 study found that two in five newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) have experienced mental health problems in the past year.

When taking stock of these sobering figures, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Classrooms and schools have a duty to raise awareness of mental health issues and provide support whether possible — for whoever may need it. 

As it’s Time To Talk Day, what better opportunity to look at ways in which individuals can make a palpable difference to how we talk about our mental wellbeing in the world of education.

How teaching staff can make a difference

We all have a part to play in cultivating an environment where staff and students are not afraid to open up a discourse on mental health. Of course, you want your students to consistently achieve the best possible results, and this is only possible if you have a classroom of happy, well-rounded students who have confidence in their abilities and feel they have a strong support network around them.

Creating a safe, caring and supportive classroom is easier said than done, however. It takes a concerted effort between colleagues and across departments to put mental health firmly on the agenda. Despite government plans to introduce a mental health workforce in schools in the coming year, more needs to be done. The onus is on individual schools, departments and teachers to make a tangible impact on their immediate surroundings.

Steps you can take to make the classroom a place to cherish rather than dread

1) Take time to educate yourself about the warning signs and symptoms of mental health disorders. Aside from leaving you better equipped to positively react to the personal struggles of students or colleagues, it can also help you manage your own mental wellbeing.

2) Make sure your students are aware of the link between the physical health and mental health, as the two are contingent on one another. Provide students with information about healthy sleeping habits, eating a balanced diet and the importance of exercise to overall wellbeing.

3) Educate students on the risks of excessive use of social media. The proliferation of social media use among people has sparked debates about the perils of attaching oneself to an online persona, which can be especially damaging for adolescents. Click on this link for more guidance on how to curb cyberbulling and how to encourage more responsible social media use.

4) If you’re comfortable doing so, be a mental health role model. Most people — young and old — respond to assertive, honest and direct communication. That’s why real-life examples of dealing with stress, pressure and anxiety are a powerful way to convey a message.

5) Support, praise and talk to your students and colleagues — especially in the months leading up to exams. Studies show a direct correlation between exam stress and anxiety, so giving students an individual platform to air their worries (after class, of course) will help alleviate some of the pressure they might be feeling.

6) Encourage your students to connect with one another. Building relationships in the classroom can instil a sense of teamwork, trust and camaraderie among students, as well as piquing the interest of disengaged or less confident students. 

7) Organise mental health workshops in your school. This is a great opportunity to bring in guest speakers and to get students to roleplay situations that are common but not widely acknowledged. Workshops can also provide useful information to staff on how to correctly communicate with students seeking support.

Giving mental health a platform

Recent mental health statistics found that 11.2% of 5 to 15-year-olds have at least one mental disorder. Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14. That’s part of the reason why children are going to be taught mindfulness, breathing and relaxation techniques at school as mental health trials are set to launch in 370 schools across England this year.

If you’re a teacher experiencing mental health problems of your own, today is also a great time to start a dialogue. 

Mental health impacts all facets of life and can snowball if left unchecked — having an impact on the education of your students, too. That’s why the wellbeing of teaching staff is so important. After all, if we remain inactive on our collective mental health — something that encumbers the teaching profession — what chance do we have of imparting wisdom onto the next generation?

Want to start a conversation about mental health in your classroom? Time To Change has a range of resources on mental health in the classroom — from leaflets to put up around the school to assembly plans.

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