Ali Quinn is E-ACT’s national lead for mental health, pioneering the trust’s whole-school approach to mental health and overseeing the training of over 1,400 trust staff as mental health first aiders.
Research shows us that mental ill health is ever increasing, with one in four people experiencing a mental health difficulty in any given year. It is well documented that teachers in particular experience high levels of stress and increased symptoms associated with low wellbeing.
Let’s use this Mental Health Awareness Week to show that this needn’t be the case! This is the perfect opportunity for us all to kick start or reboot our strategies around staff mental health, with this year’s theme of nature perfectly complementing the five ways of wellbeing: Give, Be Active, Connect, Keep Learning & Take Notice.
What we’ve been doing here at E-ACT
Over the last four years, we have developed a whole-trust mental health and wellbeing strategy and have made a number of key changes to the way we do and approach things here. As a result, wellbeing forms part of our everyday conversations and is a focal point of our culture.
So, what can you do? Here are our top tips to support staff wellbeing:
A whole organisation approach
It is important to develop a mental health strategy for the entire organisation, taking account of how you plan to promote mental health and wellbeing, how you can address the causes of stress and how you will support staff experiencing low emotional wellbeing. This should be supported through a clear mental health and wellbeing policy for all staff across the organisation.
Starting conversations about mental health with staff and actively encouraging wellbeing to be part of our everyday discussions are essential for raising awareness.
Training should be offered to staff to support them to understand wellbeing and to recognise signs and early symptoms of ill mental health. Good ‘signage’ should also be about normalising mental health and promoting ways of wellbeing, including ensuring a healthy work-life balance.
This is why we have trained over 1,400 youth and adult mental health first aiders across our trust, which is over half our workforce. It is our goal to train every member of E-ACT staff to recognise the early warning signs of mental health problems in our children and among adults.
Plan time for wellbeing
If an organisation is going to truly demonstrate its commitment to wellbeing, then it needs to become part of the agenda. This can include wellbeing Inset days, dedicating staff meetings to wellbeing activities and organising wellbeing opportunities such as mindfulness sessions.
Raising awareness, engaging with staff feedback and encouraging wellbeing will help to create an environment where staff feel confident enough to talk about their mental health. This means early intervention can be actioned and support can be implemented where necessary.
Communication is key if ill mental health is suspected or recognised, and this is where a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) can be a really helpful tool. Furthermore, Mental Health Champions provide informal, low level support and play a crucial role in raising awareness within their teams.
Supporting our staff to be the very best they can be
Often in education we focus on our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, which is absolutely the right thing to do. But it’s like the oxygen mask on an aeroplane analogy; if we don’t look after our staff, then we’re not giving them the opportunity to be in the very best position to look after our pupils.
Let’s place staff mental health and wellbeing at the centre of everything we do.