November 21, 2018

How TAFE teachers can foster good mental health in themselves and others

Nadine Bartholomeusz-Raymond

TAFE teachers have an important role in fostering young people’s futures. Teaching is hugely rewarding, but it also comes with great responsibility.

Being a teacher is more than teaching the curriculum – it is also about being a role model for good mental health.

Tomorrow’s educators will shape children’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

beyondblue encourages TAFE teachers to recognise that to help others thrive, you must first be empowered with the skills to look after your mental health. Leading by example, you can demonstrate to pre-service educators how they can support their mental health and foster the wellbeing of their students.

Mental health challenges can affect anyone, at any time

If you looked around the staff room, you’d likely see peers and managers who are dealing with a mental health condition, though rarely could you tell from a glance or even general conversation. Mental ill health is most often a hidden burden.

One in five workers in Australia is likely to be experiencing a mental health condition; depression and anxiety are the most common.

While recent research has found more people are seeking support and treatment than ever before, stigma still stops many from getting the help they need to recover.

Mental health exists on a continuum. Often, we are thriving and able to bounce back quickly from challenges. Other times, we find challenges we might usually navigate with ease feel significantly harder to overcome.

Challenges that impact our ability to perform at work can include tight deadlines and heavy workloads. Sometimes we face more complex challenges, such as negative workplace culture, strained relationships with colleagues or managers, lack of clarity about our responsibilities, or job insecurity.

These can cause us to feel stressed, anxious, worried or upset and impact our mood at work and feelings towards work.

One in five Australians has taken time off work in the past 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.

When work-related stress becomes intense, comes from multiples sources or persists for long periods of time, it can increase risks to our physical and mental health or cause an existing condition to worsen.

Start with the basics of self care

When it comes to mental health, you can’t separate issues that affect your wellbeing at or outside work. So, it’s important to pay attention to your overall health.

To stay mentally healthy, you need to:

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

It’s always important to look after the basics: eat nutritious meals and drink plenty of water, follow a sleep routine and exercise moderately on a regular basis. Reduce or eliminate your consumption of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.

Invest in your social relationships

Good mental health is linked to having a supportive network of people you can relax and have fun with, as well as call on during difficult times. Make an effort to stay in touch with friends – it doesn’t always have to be in person, you can still reap the benefits of social connectedness by catching up over emails and phone calls during busy times.

Manage and challenge your thoughts

Psychological studies have shown we can manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours to approach problems with a positive attitude. It’s known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

When you have a negative or unhelpful thought after experiencing a difficult situation, question the thought. Ask yourself:

  • If a close friend or someone I loved was thinking this way, what would I tell them?
  • Five years from now when I look back will I see things differently?
  • Are the things I’m jumping to conclusions about justified by evidence?
  • What am I ignoring about my strengths and how I’m currently coping?

Strategies to practise at work

beyondblue’s workplace mental health website Heads Up (www.headsup.org.au) provides practical tips to ensure you’re working in ways that contribute to good mental health.

Schedule meetings in core work hours: Block out time in your work calendar when you’re not available for meetings. This might include hours just before or after your workday.

Make use of breaks: Take your breaks outside of your workplace and get some fresh air. Exercise or do a stimulating activity such as reading or completing puzzles.

Set realistic deadlines and deliver on them: Writing to-do lists and breaking down projects by tasks can help you to keep on top of your workload and deliver work on time, which will reduce the potential of feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Sometimes, it’s OK to say ‘no’: You don’t have to agree to take on other people’s work all the time. Say ‘no’ and state your reasons – when your response is genuine, it won’t mean you are letting the team down.

Limit working extra hours and taking work home: It’s ok to stay late every now and then, but regularly working beyond your standard hours can negatively impact your health.

Turn off work-related notifications after work: It can be tempting to check emails and messages from managers and colleagues outside work hours. But once you’ve left work for the day, switch off and focus on fostering things important to your personal life.

Take holiday leave: Holidays can take your mind off work and help you to return to work feeling refreshed and ready to be productive.

Make use of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP): An EAP or similar program assists employees with personal and work-related issues that might impact their job performance and wellbeing. Your state body of the Australian Education Union can provide contact details for your EAP.

Explore suitable flexible working arrangements: Discuss options with your manager to create a work schedule that better suits your lifestyle. You might like to negotiate flexibility in your working hours or locations, commit to longer days for a shorter work week, work split shifts or job share.

National Education Initiative

TAFE teachers play a critical role in training pre-service educators about how to foster good mental health for themselves and for children and young people.

Half of all lifetime mental health issues emerge by the age of 14 and one in seven young people aged 4 – 17 experience a mental health condition in any given year.

As part of a recent beyondblue study, 83 per cent of health experts agreed that ‘increasing resilience among children aged 0–12 could potentially prevent mental health issues during childhood and/or later in life’.

beyondblue will shortly launch the National Education Initiative which will build on the success of KidsMatter and MindMatters; the Australian Government initiatives for schools and early learning services that we developed in conjunction with leading education and health organisations.

The National Education Initiative will incorporate Response Ability; a training program that provides resources and support to pre-service teachers of primary and secondary schools and early learning services.

This ground-breaking initiative is about making mental health awareness and practices part of the daily routine of every early learning service, primary and secondary school across Australia.

Educators will learn how to look after their own mental health and to look out for others – as they build healthy learning communities in which our children and young people can thrive.

It’s about giving everyone the tools and confidence to support children’s mental health in an environment that is welcoming and safe.

That gives you, our busy educators, the ‘how to’ to promote good mental health, know what to look out for, what to do and where to go to get help for children who are struggling.

Because we know that good mental health – just like good physical health – means that children stay engaged in their early learning service and at school, they concentrate better and are in the best position to achieve their best academic results.

If you would like to learn more about the beyondblue National Education Initiative, sign up to receive email updates: https://bb.org.au/education-initiative

Nadine Bartholomeusz-Raymond is beyondblue’s General Manager of Education and Families and is leading the National Education Initiative.

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