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SkillsTalk

Why teachers need mental health training

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay | 04 August 2020


“Stressed and depressed” – common adjectives often used to describe the youth of today’s educational system. In Australia alone, 2019 research revealed that nearly 25% of all young people experience high rates of mental distress; figures that have risen by 5.5% in the last seven years. Such problems include study-related stress, low self-confidence, and in some cases – even self-harm.

While lengthy measures are being taken to address the growing, general concern of mental health (with nearly $10 billion spent in funding related services between 2017-2018) – there is still much room for improvement in the educational sector. 

Public discussion is now revolving around the subject of pushing for greater mental health training in schools, which can better equip teachers in assisting, advising, and spotting the early warning signs of those with poor mental health. 

With the right tools and communicative skills, teachers can play a key role in squashing stigmas and improving the mental state of our youth. Below, SkillsTalk outline the benefits of providing teachers with the mental health training they need – and the positive impact it can have on all involved.

Teachers can spot early signs of poor mental health

teacher consoling upset student

With teachers at the frontline of our educational system, equipping them with proper mental health training allows them to not only shape the knowledge of Australia’s youth, but promote and foster healthy well-being, at that. 

As students spend most of their days in school, interacting directly with teachers – these professionals are in the best place to observe any negative changes in behaviour, and provide advice or early intervention when necessary. With the right training, teachers would have the proper tools to aid those experiencing personal or study-related problems; even if this simply means being a “soundboard” or a supportive ear. In many cases, all a troubled student needs is someone willing to listen – who can offer up the right words of encouragement, alleviating or subduing any current problems they may be facing. 

Teachers who lack mental health training may be prone to misconceiving these students as “unmotivated, lazy, or disruptive”. Even worse, they may be quick to assume that something is “wrong” with these individuals, rather than recognising the poor signs of mental health and offering them the support they need. 

Proper training can help teachers identify these red flags and recognise when a student may need a break from their work, gentle reminders to turn assignments in, or the professional help of a school counsellor. 

Additionally, thorough training in mental health can help teachers reduce any stigmas surrounding the topic. They’ll be better-equipped in using the right language when discussing the subject (ex. not using stigmatising labels, using proper terminology); and can help bust popular myths on mental health, while encouraging open discussion to clarify misunderstandings and often misguided perceptions. 

Teachers can be better equipped to manage day-to-day classroom experiences

Mental health training not only grants teachers the skills to identify and mitigate mental health problems – but also the ability to better manage students in general, day-to-day classroom situations.

A course in mental health can help sharpen one’s interpersonal and conflict management skills, for example. They can also improve one’s collaborative abilities and enhance their self-awareness. 

Upskilled’s CHC43315 - Certificate IV in Mental Health, for example, doesn’t just focus on ways of promoting social, emotional and physical wellbeing – it also helps its students develop their communication, effectively collaborate with other services, and promote self-advocacy. 

In sharing their story with the Guardian, a teacher reveals the massive, “revolutionary” impact that a counselling course had on their experience as a long-time educator. They revealed how some parent-teacher meetings made them feel like they were filling the shoes of a counsellor or social worker. Students attended class while dealing with trauma, personal issues, and in one case – bereavement.

Such experiences helped them realise how proper mental health training can grant them greater confidence in assisting families (and young individuals) undergoing crisis.

Though it’s unreasonable to expect teachers to additionally play the role of “counsellor”; basic mental health training can arm them with the right empathetic, therapeutic approaches to communicate with students in all types of conflict – from occasional lapses in behaviour to dealing with more deep-seated issues of mental health.

Having such skills under their belt can also bode well for new teachers entering the field. Additional knowledge in counselling and mental health support can effectively boost one’s resume, as it shows a greater capability in relationship-building, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication. 

Delivers holistic benefits for the school

male teacher speaking to high school students

Supporting teachers with mental health training allows schools to foster a culture of well-being, resilience, and an open mindset towards the subject. This culture can help build a community of positive social norms and behaviour – resulting in a more harmonious and inclusive experience for all students, educators, and staff.

Institutions label this the “whole of school” approach; where a healthy socio-emotional school environment is built on an organisational, pedagogical, and relational level. 

At an organisational level, policies are enacted and opportunities are provided to encourage a friendly, inclusive, and respectful environment. On a pedagogical level, teachers would be well-equipped to explicitly teach socio-emotional learning skills and social capabilities. Finally, on a relational level, the school encourages positive student-teacher and peer-to-peer relationships – intervening should students exhibit symptoms of learning or mental health-related difficulties. 

Proper training enables teachers to do their part in maintaining an environment of positivity and productivity – both on a pedagogical and relational level. They’ll not only have the skills to directly teach positive, healthy behaviours and learning practices; but also the capability of maintaining supportive relationships with students, ready to offer guidance in times of trouble.

In ensuring students are at their healthiest and most capable, trained teachers help uphold a school culture that values both its education and student well-being.

It benefits the mental health of teachers, too

This holistic approach towards a healthy school culture not only benefits its students – but the mental health and wellbeing of teachers, too.

In a study of secondary school teachers in Queensland, research showed that student behaviour, attitudes, and work ethic were some of the topmost influences on one’s personal stress. The unpredictability of “disruptive students” (coupled with lacking skills in effectively managing these situations) was another common source of high stress.

Additionally, various physical stress indicators were reported – including insomnia, high blood pressure, persistent anxiety, and irritability.

Needless to say, a teacher’s job is no easy task. The occupation has long been viewed as a stressful one across different countries – with rates only rising by the year. 

Cultivating a more harmonious, positive, and healthy school environment for students can thus help alleviate these stressors. When students feel their best, they tend to perform and behave at their best – saving teachers the struggle of managing negative attitudes and behavioural tendencies. 

Additionally, by being well-trained to approach, control, and alleviate disruptive conduct, teachers feel less “helpless” or set aback by such behaviours. Those ill-equipped to address these issues are likely to improvise solutions; leading to greater levels of stress, and approaches that are ineffective at best – or further damaging at worst.

By implementing proper health training in schools, institutions are bound to see less turnover and issues of teacher burnout. 

Boost your teaching skills with a mental health course

A thorough course in mental health or counselling can effectively strengthen one’s teaching career. With global statistics pointing to 10-20% of all children and adolescents experiencing mental disorders – the need for such training is critical. 

Upskilled offers both a nationally-recognised CHC43315 - Certificate IV in Mental Health and a CHC51015 - Diploma of Counselling to equip teachers (and others interested in the field) with the robust, flexible training they need to promote better mental health and well-being in our communities. Explore the skills required to assist those in crisis situations, assess one’s socio-emotional and physical wellbeing, expand your knowledge on the available support services for specific mental health issues.

Both certifications are available online, helping you study according to your personal needs and schedule. 

Encourage better mental health among your students – and enquire about a course today. 
 
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