Supporting the mental health of teachers - Education Matters Magazine

Supporting the mental health of teachers

With a growing number of teachers seeking support for workplace anxiety and stress, mental health experts are encouraging schools, parents and students to consider the impact of their actions on educators.

The call to action by AccessEAP, a corporate psychology organisation which supports and develops positive organisational behaviour, has been prompted by a 36% increase in the number of educators seeking support from its counsellors over the past five years, most commonly for help with workplace stress (18%) and anxiety (34%).

Marcela Slepica, Director of Clinical Services at AccessEAP says, “There are many more pressures on today’s teachers including the impact of new technology and social media, the rise of reported mental health issues amongst students, a lack of resources, increasingly demanding or aggressive parents and escalating levels of classroom violence. Consequently, the modern teaching environment can be detrimental to the mental and even physical wellbeing of educators.”

Recent research shows that close to 50% of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years, while AccessEAP’s referrals show that over one in ten (13%) are currently considering resignation.

“Teachers play a vital role in the community and we collectively need to support them so that they can do their job,” adds Ms Slepica. “This starts with parents modelling good behaviours and supporting teachers’ roles. Currently a third of primary school teachers and a fifth of secondary school teachers are exposed to abusive behaviour from parents at least once a month. This can range from harassment online to confrontations at the school gates. This behaviour is unacceptable and schools should have a no tolerance policy. However, many schools are hesitant and do not want to alienate or upset parents.”

Modern day teaching also requires the ability to navigate confrontation, as classroom conflicts continues to rise and has resulted in threats of industrial action, as seen this time last year in Queensland, where attacks by pupils against teachers had tripled in the previous four years, accounting for 595 incidents. According to AccessEAP, teachers are 8.4 times more likely to experience violence than the average Australian.

“Schools can also look to EAPs (employment assistance programs) to help provide support from qualified professional psychologists in complex situations such as incidents of violence or harassment. We’ve seen this work especially well in the education industry, which has a higher than average rate of utilisation,” added Ms Slepica.

She adds that teachers also need help understanding mental wellbeing in the classroom, “Teachers often report to us that they don’t feel equipped to support students suffering with a mental health issue. It’s important that they are provided with advice on how to escalate any concerns to a trained school psychologist or the EAP.

“For many schools teacher mental wellbeing, relationships with parents or student aggression may not be an issue, but the start of the next wave of pupils is a perfect time for everyone on both sides of the education system to consider the needs of teachers and what they can do to create an environment where they can do their best work for our kids.”