07815 618905 steve@pro-mind.co.uk

I’ve previously posted an article on how mental toughness can benefit teachers. This time I’m going to go into more depth to highlight the dramatic problems of the issue of mental health problem in the teaching profession.

As I mentioned previously, in October 2018, Education Support Partnership, the UK’s only charity committed to the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education, published their Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018, conducted in partnership with YouGov.

Shockingly this showed that:

  • More than three-quarters of teachers surveyed experienced work-related behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms
  • More than half were considering leaving the profession due to poor health.
  • Senior leaders have been particularly hard hit with 80% suffering from work-related stress, 40% suffering from symptoms of depression and 63% considering leaving the profession – an issue, which unaddressed will leave many schools with no one to lead, motivate staff and maintain and improve educational outcomes.

The key findings included:

  • 76% of education professionals experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, compared to 60% of UK employees
  • 57% considered leaving the profession in the last two years due to health pressures
  • 47% experienced depression, anxiety or panic attacks due to work.

The 2018 results – when compared to ESP’s Health Survey 2017 – revealed a significant rise in several mental health and wellbeing-related symptoms. Rising levels of insomnia and irritability/mood swings over the last year were the most common factors:

  • Insomnia (increased from 41-56%) and irritability or mood swings (from 37-51%)
  • Tearfulness (31-44%), forgetfulness (27-41%) and difficulty concentrating (27-40%)
  • Senior leaders were more likely to suffer from all these symptoms than teachers and other education professionals
  • The largest increase in the signs of depression was from senior leaders, which rose from 25% in 2017 to 40% in 2018
  • Acute stress was a new category for the 2018 survey – with 27% of education professionals showing signs of this (31% for senior leaders), and 23% with these signs receiving a formal diagnosis from their GP.

The Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 is structured around four main themes:

Section one builds a picture of the sector overall – key statistics include:

  • 67% of teachers are stressed at work
  • 29% work more than 51 hours a week – approximately 14 hours more per week than the national average of 37.4 hours (Office for National Statistics)
  • 74% say the inability to switch off from work is the major contributing factor to a negative work-life balance.

Section two looks at mental health at an individual level, key findings include:

  • 31% experienced a mental health issue in the past year
  • 72% say workload is the main reason for considering leaving their jobs
  • 43% and 37% of education professionals’ symptoms could be signs of anxiety or depression (50% of those with symptoms were diagnosed by a GP).

Section three examines the impact of an individual’s mental health and wellbeing on others in the sector, key findings include:

  • 47% of educators with mental health symptoms were away for a month or more over the academic year
  • 40% of senior leaders and teachers believe having time off work due to mental health symptoms will have a negative impact on their students’ studies
  • 56% of school leaders (49% of teachers) believe their personal relationships have suffered as a result of psychological, physical or behavioural problems at work.

Section four discusses mental health and wellbeing guidance available to educators:

  • 65% say they wouldn’t feel confident in disclosing mental health problems or unmanageable stress to their employer
  • 36% say they have no form of mental health support at work
  • 64% of schools do not regularly survey their staff to gauge employee wellbeing
  • 74% say they don’t have enough guidance about mental health at work.

You don’t need to work in education to see that these statistics are very worrying. People with genuinely good intentions to support and develop young people are having to suffer in a job that although challenging, should provide them with far more rewards and great experiences that it appears to currently do.

What if teachers could develop their mental toughness? What would that do for them to reduce the stress and anxiety they suffer from?

Let’s examine how the ‘Control’ aspect of the 4C’s mental toughness model applies to these worrying statistics

Control in the mental toughness model is the extent to which you feel that you can shape and influence what is happening around you so that you can feel that you can make a difference and achieve what is necessary.

  • If you have high levels of control you feel that your input really matters and you are motivated to make a full contribution.
  • You believe that you can exert considerable influence over your environment.
  • You consistently think that you can make a difference and change things for the better.
  • You are less likely to feel stressed in a way that leads to negative consequences.
  • You have an inner belief that you are enough and you don’t need others to approve of you.

If you imagine a circle surrounding you and:

  • Inside of the circle are all of the things you can control e.g. your preparation, your methods, your thoughts, beliefs and values and your behaviours and actions
  • Outside of the circle are things you have no control over – other people, events etc.

When you focus your attention and divert time and energy to things outside of the circle, you will be more prone to feeling stressed and worried. Why is this? Because you are trying to solve problems that you can’t solve, you are worrying about things that you have no control over and using these things as excuses or mitigating factors for the negative consequences you are experiencing. The more you do this, the smaller your circle seems to get and the more you think that you cannot control your experience and shape what happens to you.

People with high levels of life control spend more time focusing on the things they can actually control. This doesn’t preclude them from stress, it just means that they will experience the negative consequences in relatively minor ways or not at all.

Where might a ‘stressed’ teacher be focusing their attention:

  • On an upcoming Ofsted inspection
  • On how much time they are working
  • Unreasonable demands placed on them by senior staff
  • Poor working relationships
  • Challenging pupil behaviour
  • Challenging parents
  • The need to hit statistical targets
  • The governments league tables
  • The increase in bureaucracy

In order to be able to respond more usefully to these stressors, it would be more helpful to look inside the circle and ask the question ‘What am I able to control myself about these things?’

  • For example, it’s not uncommon for a person with low life control to feel stressed about a poor working relationship and say things like “They make me feel stressed”, “I get frustrated when I’m around them”, “The things they say make me feel mad” and so on.
  • A person with higher levels of mental toughness would be naturally more likely to say “What am I saying or doing that is affecting this relationship?”, “What different approach can I take to have a more productive interaction?” or “I’m OK and they’re OK – if I challenge their behaviour and leave personal reasons out of it, it will be difficult, but things could improve”
  • Another example of low life control would be how a teacher is viewing the long hours they work. They will be saying things like “I have no time for myself”, “All I seem to do is work”, “I don’t have enough time”.
  • A person with higher levels of life control would be more likely to say “How am I using my time? “How can I structure my workload more effectively?”’ “I’ll review what I need to do versus what I like doing” or “I can say no to that extra work if I really can’t do it”

Of course, some of this isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be achieved.

The good news is that mental toughness can be developed. The current experience of teachers is not fixed and by developing in the four mental areas of control, commitment, challenge and confidence, a teacher will see an improvement in their ability to deal with these stressors and reduce or eliminate the negative consequences of them.

The highly reliable and valid MTQPlus assessment measures mental toughness in 8 key areas and can be used as a foundation for further development. The assessment has been used very successfully in education, occupational and sport settings over the past 10 years.

How can you develop your mental toughness?

  • In 2019 I’ll be running one-day ‘Mental Toughness for Teachers’ workshops that utilise the MTQPlus assessment – more details here
  • I also offer 12-week mental toughness coaching programmes. These programmes can be run 1-2-1 or for a group and again utilise the MTQPlus assessment. More details here

The full Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 is available on the Education Support Partnership website – http://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/wellbeing-index

Steve Dent is a mental toughness coach and trainer, associate member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), Master Practitioner of NLP, Licenced to administer the MTQ family of assessments and founder of Pro Mind Coaching & Training

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