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Supporting Mental Health in Further Education

12th October 2020

Supporting Mental Health Blog

A guest post by Dr Joanna Burrell, Company Director, Ultimate Resilience Ltd

With anxiety running high, supporting mental health in further education will be essential this autumn. Here we discuss how to boost staff and student mental health through this period of ongoing challenge and change.

The impact of Covid

It is becoming clear that the mental health of young people has been disproportionately affected by the economic and social effects of the pandemic. Simultaneously, accessibility to mental health services has reduced and the ability of teaching staff to help with the wellbeing of young people in education has been weakened.

Before Covid hit, teaching staff were already considered at high risk of chronic stress. National figures show that 3750 cases were reported during the 2016-2017 academic year in England alone. But this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. With the accumulation of new pressures and demands associated with Covid, teaching staff are now at even greater risk.

As schools and colleges reopen, student mental health has been pushed to the top of the government’s agenda. Research shows that an important factor in student resilience and wellbeing is the support provided by teachers. Students will need this support more than ever as they navigate the challenges and uncertainties of starting or returning to college.

However, with teachers facing their own challenges, many may not feel they have the social or emotional resources to deliver this much-needed help.

Therefore, a priority for colleges will be ensuring staff have the training and skills they need to manage personal challenges. This will equip them with the social and emotional resources to help and support students through this difficult time.

Teacher resilience

Teacher resilience is recognised as an essential component of outstanding teaching quality and learning in education environments.

Researchers have found that teacher and student mental health are closely linked. Teachers who are given the space and training to focus on their own wellbeing fare better through challenge and change. They are better able to form high-quality relationships with students, to be more responsive to students’ needs and to create better learning experiences.

Supporting mental health in Further Education

Colleges must empower staff to look after their own mental health and the wellbeing of students.

Organisational support:

At the organisational level, the mental health of teaching staff is linked to factors such as workload, student behaviour and workplace relationships. Clear guidance and support in these areas will be an important feature of any college’s return to work wellbeing plan.

Teacher support:

Organisations must provide teachers with the social and emotional skills to adapt to the post-Covid challenges of return to college through:

  • Self-awareness training.
  • Encouraging emotion regulation through opportunities for regular breaks, using controlled breathing, and practising mindfulness.
  • Enhancing flexible thinking skills and the use of an optimistic mindset. This allows accurate appraisal of challenges and promotes more balanced ways of responding.
  • Creating opportunities for social connection and support, such as social events and team building. Provision of staff support in the form of mentors or resilience coaching.
  • Encouraging self-care and good work-life balance.

Student support:

Organisations must also provide college staff with training and skills to support student mental health:

  • Training to recognise signs and symptoms of mental health difficulties in students, building confidence in knowing when and how to offer support.
  • Building strong relationships with students through the use of active listening skills and strategies. Managing difficult conversations mindfully and with compassion.
  • Developing clear policies on behaviour management to ensure consistent boundaries. This creates a predictable environment that allows for emotional containment.
  • Using compassion-focused approaches to understand the meaning of student behaviour and to encourage student self-awareness and their capacity to self-soothe.

Prioritising resilience training and coaching support nurtures teacher mental health and wellbeing. Teachers with good mental health are better able to form supportive relationships with the young people they serve. And together these play a key role in supporting mental health in further education colleges, for both staff and students, building resilience across the whole organisation.

Jo will be speaking at AoC’s FE HR Online Conference on 21 and 22 October. For more information visit here.