Today is World Mental Health Day. I am a teacher, and at my school, along with probably thousands of other schools, we were encouraged to teach about and spread awareness of mental health.
What is it? How would you cope with it? Why is it important to talk about it?
I started off with a video all about mental health awareness for children, which provided a great discussion point. It even prompted some members of my class to discuss their own mental health, which was fantastic. We then shared different strategies that we could use, should we be struggling with our own mental health. The children had some lovely suggestions, including:
- Read a book, “you can get lost in the story and forget about what’s worrying you”.
- Take a walk to clear your head.
- “Open the window. You can listen to the sounds of nature which will make you calm”.
- Play video games (obvs).
- “Go and play with your friends. It will also give you the opportunity to talk to someone you trust.”
Each child made a poster for themselves to keep, listing the strategies that they would adopt should they need to.
I had a really positive morning, and felt that the children had really understood what mental health is, the importance of looking after it, and how you can keep yourself happy and positive – for as much of the time as possible!
Having had such a positive morning immersed in the children’s ideas, my lunchtime break brought me back to reality with a bit of a thud.
One teacher was sat in tears, and news that another was also very upset and had gone home earlier. This was all to do with their own mental health.
It seemed hugely contradictory that we, the teachers, had to teach our children about how to keep positive and look after themselves, when there are so many of us out there who cannot do these things for ourselves. Massive workloads, combating the stigma of “You only work 9 – 3, you can go home when the children do!” and “What are you complaining about, you get such long holidays!”. Not to mention the pressures of Ofsted, meeting targets, subject leadership, parents, pay cuts, lack of funding, ensuring every child achieves above and beyond what is expected of them….. the list is endless, and it really is no wonder that the number of teachers leaving the profession after a few years is on the up.
I am only in my 4th year of teaching, and would say that my mental health, most days, is in good stead. I have a massively supportive network – my family and my husband are always there to pick me up after a tough day/week/term (!), which I am so grateful for. There are definitely days where I think that this is not the job for me, and to be honest, these days are becoming more and more regular, the more bogged down I get in ‘teacher life’. However, I love working with young people and inspiring them to be the best that they can be, and am not ready to give up on that just yet!
The bottom line is that more needs to be done to ensure that teachers’ wellbeing is looked after. This doesn’t just mean having a nice yoga session every now and then, or bringing cake into the staffroom. It’s much more than that. It stems not from each individual school, but from the Government and the insane expectations that they want every school to meet, without a care on the effect that this has on the wellbeing and mental health of the teachers who work so hard to achieve these expectations day in, day out.
After today and seeing how what should be a positive day for our school, actually seemed rather negative (don’t get me wrong, the children learnt a lot and it was really important for them to have the discussions they did), I can’t help but feel that teachers should have their own mental health day too. Not where we teach the children good strategies to look after themselves, but where someone teaches us! Maybe then every teacher will feel better equipped for days like today (and every day), and not feel like they can’t educate their children to look after themselves.
So, if there are any fellow teachers out there who have had a Mental Health day today, please comment below on how it went, and maybe even share your own mental health worries. Remember, you are certainly not alone, and I hope you are finding your own ways to get through any worries you may have. If not, use some of my class’ suggestions – I hope they help!
Stay strong, peeps, you’ve got this!