Teacher wellbeing – addressing the mental health crisis

There is a mental health crisis facing the education sector. Over the past few years, teachers, team leaders and support staff have seen unprecedented levels of change to their workload. From pivoting lesson plans for online delivery, creating support packages to help students learn remotely, to the recent cost-of-living crisis and budget cuts to the sector – it’s no surprise that education staff are recording persistent, higher levels of stress in their roles. There are calls for the sector to evaluate their support mechanisms for staff, and provide a psychologically safe space for staff to feel valued, and supported to bring their whole selves to work.


Research from Education Support’s latest Teacher Wellbeing Index highlights the main causes of poor mental health amongst education staff, such as persistent high levels of stress, presenteeism, and a lack of support around people’s wellbeing from their employer. The statistics support reform within the sector, to manage the mental health and wellbeing of education staff through clear communication, ways of working, and a structured wellbeing support policy.

Stress is one of the main contributors for poor mental health. It’s important to recognise that a little stress can be good for us as it helps us gain focus, energy, and resilience to complete our tasks. However, when left unaddressed, stress can significantly contribute to poor mental health. 75% of staff surveyed felt this way, noting their main areas of stress are;

  • Distrust in their line manager (92%)
  • Negative team culture (88%)
  • Not feeling supported by their organisation (86%)

Staff need to feel supported by their organisation, have trust in their line managers and be part of a positive working culture in order to thrive and bring their whole selves to work. The evidence illustrates the need to embed a positive culture change, to help staff feel valued and supported. Line managers can gain trust by promoting better communication, and support staff to feel psychologically safe to discuss their concerns openly. When line managers understand how to spot the signs of stress, they can support their teams before they reach crisis, this is imperative for improving mental wellbeing and improving productivity.

Stress also contributes to presenteeism, a term used to describe people coming into work even when they are ill, therefore impacting on their ability to perform or on productivity. Staff who continue this practice are often less productive as a result. Presenteeism is typically indicative of a negative workplace culture, as staff feel their presence is more important than the work they do, as well as their mental wellbeing. Those surveyed in the report agreed, with 47% sharing they feel compelled to come in to work even when they are feeling unwell. Presenteeism contributes to stress, as it is built around insecurity around role and capabilities. Organisations can remedy this by improving communication around ways of working when staff are unwell, and senior leaders can adhere to this practice, to help education staff feel psychologically safe to do so as well.

Team and company culture is important to consider when creating a psychologically safe environment. A positive culture promotes conversation and learning, allows employees to voice their challenges, and provides support so staff feel seen and valued, whilst signposting to internal and external support. A positive culture reduces stress and gives employees the power to take control over their mental health. By contrast, a negative culture often thrives on stress and insecurity. 59% of staff stated they do not feel comfortable in disclosing mental health challenges to their employer. This discomfort is a direct result of a negative workplace culture, as staff do not feel safe to be open about their challenges. When left unaddressed, these challenges often worsen over time, and the education sector is impacted by long term absences that could be avoided by a more inclusive and supportive culture. Embedding trust is crucial to create a space for education staff to share how they feel, and developing communication to signpost where support can be found can significantly improve the culture within their teams and organisations.

There is a cost for inaction here, with 59% of staff are considering leaving the sector and, even more worryingly, 55% are actively looking for other roles away from education. Losing high levels of experience at pace will contribute to psychologically unsafe environments, be it from stress from additional workload during the hiring process or feeling insecure about their organisations ability to retain staff. Supporting staff with clear ways of working, signposting information on how to access resources, and creating a safe space to share concerns, can help to instil confidence in your staff and help you retain your talent.

"Everyone deserves to be healthy and safe at work. Especially those who guide and inspire the next generation. Yet our findings show stress, depression and anxiety all remain at an unsustainably high level among teachers and education staff. The reality is that no one can do their best work if they are emotionally and physically depleted. And our children and young people deserve so much more from us. We must act now to protect and retain our education workforce by addressing the well documented drivers of stress in the system. At Education Support we will continue to do this by providing support to individuals working within education, by supporting education institutions to create mentally healthy cultures and continue to advocate for changes at a policy level."

– Faye McGuinness, Director of Programmes, Education Support

Supporting education staff returning to work following a mental health absence

The report doesn’t touch on staff’s experience returning to work following a mental health absence. It’s likely that only a small minority get to the point where they need to take time out from their roles, to support their mental health recovery. More must be done to signpost staff to the support mechanisms that are available to them. Clear communication around ways working and returning to work following a mental health absence can help build trust, and implementing policies around these areas will encourage a positive, psychologically safe culture and environment where staff can bring their whole selves to work and feel supported.

Team leaders and line managers can drive engagement through regular check ins, signposting to available resources, and keeping up to date with the latest legislation and guidance. Mental health awareness training can help staff spot the signs of poor mental health in themselves, and their colleagues. These are preventative measures that will help identify challenges before they reach crisis intervention. By implementing preventative measures staff will feel supported, productivity can increase, and reduce lengthy absences and presenteeism.

At mental health UK we have a free online support platform for education staff. Create your free account today and access secure mutual support, e-learning, resources and tools: https://bloom.clic-uk.org/

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