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Opinion14th May 2018

Mental health in schools: how to create a more open working environment

Jo Loughran

Jo Loughran is the Director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma movement led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Jo has over a decade of involvement in the UK charity sector, specialising in behaviour change campaigns and mental health anti-stigma programmes. To help promote #mentalhealthawarenessweek (14-20 May), she’s written this blog about supporting teachers in schools.

One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year and we know that schools can be high-pressured environments that might impact wellbeing. Teachers also have the added responsibility of looking out for the mental health of their students, so it’s vital we ensure that staff feel supported to talk openly about mental health in the school environment.

Everyone has a part to play in breaking down stigma and creating an environment in which people feel comfortable discussing the topic of mental health and disclosing their own mental health problems, should they choose to.

Look out for your colleagues

One of the biggest barriers to talking about mental health at work is the fear of judgement from others. It’s helpful to know how to step in if you think a colleague might be struggling:

Review and reinforce mental health policy

The first step is to offer reassurance to employees that they won’t be treated differently, or be discriminated against, if they decide to disclose a mental health problem. Start by reviewing your policy around mental health, whether that’s a standalone policy or more generally around wellbeing. Reinforce this by distributing it to staff.

Make a commitment

By signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge, employers publically commit to opening up the conversation about mental health at work. You can find out how to encourage your organisation to sign here.

Starting the conversation

Line managers need the skills to have conversations about mental health with their direct reports. This is particularly pertinent for teachers, who may not see colleagues face-to-face on a daily basis. Using a tool such as a Wellness Action Plan can help facilitate the conversation. By noting down symptoms and triggers of poor mental health, employees can advise their manager how best to support if they notice something might be wrong. It’s also a reminder for the employee to manage their own wellbeing – to seek support when they need to.

Everyone’s attitude makes a difference

Senior leaders have a pivotal role to play in leading by example, by being open about their own experiences with mental health problems they can send a strong message that this isn’t a sign of weakness and doesn’t limit your ambition or aspiration.

Speaking out

Speak publically about mental health. Giving talks on inset or training days through blogposts or your intranet can be a great way to do this. Feedback from employers tells us that talking honestly and openly in this way makes the biggest difference in starting a cultural shift.

Be consistent

A consistent approach to mental health awareness helps remind everyone that your school truly cares. Holding events, awareness days or campaigns throughout the year keeps up the ‘noise’ and prompts more open conversations.

Employee champions

Finally, our pledged employers tell us it’s crucial to have people ‘on the ground’ in the form of employee champions. These champions challenge stigma in the workplace, normalise conversations about mental health and encourage those who need help to feel comfortable asking for it.

Find out more about Time To Change on the website:

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