Mental health awareness in the classroom and beyond
13 May 2019

One in four people suffer from poor mental health in their lifetime. It can be hard to identify and difficult to talk about, but mental ill health can affect anyone at any time in their life. To help you promote good mental health, here are a few tools from our speakers and trainers to help you look after your own mental health and support those you work with, whether colleagues or students.

Research from 2018 revealed that 31% of UK teachers experienced a mental health problem. The study revealed teachers turned to food, alcohol, unnecessary spending, drugs or gambling as methods to cope with stress.

James Hilton, a former headteacher who shared his experiences of wellbeing in education at our English Language Teaching Conference (formerly Academic Conference), said he had to leave a job as a headteacher due to stress.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, we compiled advice from speakers at the conference earlier this year to better understand the wellbeing of staff and students.


What are the causes?

Delegates suggested being a performer as a teacher and putting on a brave face are just some of the causes of mental health problems and stress. Phil Longwell, an experienced English language tutor, described some of the causes including: heavy workloads, the preparing for inspections, imposter syndrome and lack of support.

International students and staff may also experience culture shock, homesickness and cultural differences that may contribute to poor mental health.


What does mental ill health look like?

Everyone's experience of their mental health can be different, but there are a few common signs to look out for.

James, describing his personal experience, explained how stress in his job affected his sleep and appetite.

During their talks, Phil Longwell, an English language teacher since 2006 and Ruth Hughes, the founding director of Curious Human, identified various mental health conditions in both staff and students, including:

  • Increased forgetfulness and difficulty in concentrating
  • Disregarding risks
  • Unusually sad moods that do not go away
  • Concerned friends or colleagues
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Hallucinations or delusions.

While these signs do not necessarily indicate poor mental health, knowing what to look out for means you are able to reach out and support those around you.

Techniques to encourage good mental health

The causes of poor wellbeing and mental health may not be instantly diagnosable or noticable, but there are methods that can be used to support everyone in your organisation.

Forget the phone

Research suggests that a significant overuse of phones could cause anxiety and tiredness. With 85% of the UK population owning a smartphone, Phil suggested some methods to still function at work and at home without constant use of your phone:

  • Turn off notifications
  • Place your phone upside down and keep some distance from your phone, particularly at bedtime
  • Don't tie your anxiety levels to how much battery power you have left
  • Minimise the number of apps you use
  • Accept uncertainty.

Manage your time effectively

The NHS Moodzone says that learning to manage your time can help you feel more relaced, focused and in control. Phil recommended giving time for your family, knowing your most productive time of the day, doing the worst thing first to avoid procrastination, learning to say 'no' and the Eisenhower Matrix.


Ruth suggested a tactic of perspective taking for those living with mental ill health, which involves having a CALM attitude towards how you view your thoughts and feelings:

  • Curious - take some time to consider your thoughts. What are your feelings telling you? What could be causing them? Why are you feeling them? How do you feel about them?
  • Accepting - be understanding and open to how you feel. The thoughts you are having may make sense given certain circumstances
  • Loving/compassionate - recognise that it is human to make mistakes and are generally trying to do their best
  • Motivated - try to learn more and grow from a position of security by looking to see what adjustments we can make, whilst accepting that this may take time.

Phil recommended the A to Z of self-care for teachers and gave tactics to teachers on the Saturday of the ELT Conference, which included raising awareness of mental health issues, focussing on breathing, taking up hobbies and understanding that you're not alone.

Manage with ALGEE and establish policies

Managers were advised by Phil to use the ALGEE approach when supporting teachers without specific training:

  • Assess risk of suicide or self-harm
  • Listen non-judgementally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help strategies.

Ruth also asked our delegates if they have a wellbeing policy in place at their organisation. These policies could include:

  • Teaching students and training staff about wellbeing
  • Having individual care plans
  • Staying informed with the many referral services like Samaritans and Mindline.

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