Note – This post was written Spring 2019 so pre-Covid but is still and probably even more relevant today.
So why is good mental health and wellbeing in school important?
Well firstly there will be significant impact on staff. Absence and churn will be significantly reduced if staff feel good about themselves and their environment.
Pupils will benefit. Not only because they will be in a better place mentally but they will be being taught by a more motivated and healthier staff.
A happy and healthy Senior Leadership Team will make better decisions which will result in a thriving school, a more congruent, efficient and effective team, higher student and staff engagement, a more cohesive learning environment and more contented stakeholders.
So, what has good mental health and wellbeing got to do with school governors?
As I am sure you are aware, Governors have 3 core functions:
- Ensuring clarity of vision, ethos & strategic direction
- Holding the head to account for the educational performance of the school and it’s pupils and the performance management of the staff
- Overseeing the financial performance of the school and making sure money is well spent
With this comes an abundance of responsibility.
Have you stopped to consider the impact poor wellbeing, health and especially mental health has on everyone in school whether it be staff, pupils and yes, governors.
Stress, anxiety and depression can have a massive impact in schools. Most people are already aware of the problems with work/life balance of staff and particularly SLT but what about the study/life balance of pupils, particularly as exams approach?
Wellbeing of all involved in school is massively important and the responsibility for it lies firmly at the feet of Governors!
Why I hear you ask! Well it impacts on all 3 of those core functions we are responsible for!
- The ethos of the school must include the wellbeing of all associated with the school.
- The educational performance of the school will undoubtedly suffer. SLT, staff and pupils are stressed and/or not even in school.
- The budget will definitely be negatively impacted if you are constantly having to get supply staff in.
So what can you do to mitigate the effects?
Firstly an understanding of what stress, anxiety and depression is will help.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defences kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.” and is an adverse reaction(s) experienced to too much (or too little) pressure.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview….. or an Ofsted inspection!!
Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days.
Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong –it is a real illness with real symptoms. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.
Increased pupil or staff absence, high staff churn, poor exam results are just a few of the signs that there could be a problem with mental health issues within the school but do you know what signs to look for in yourself or in others?
The signs that someone is struggling can often be difficult to spot and can manifest in many different ways here are just some of them:
- Lack of motivation
- Low self esteem
- Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, recreational or illegal drugs
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation, and nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles.
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat.
- Frequent colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with stress anxiety and depression can make a full recovery.
It is easy to say the symptoms will go away but they may not and external help may well be required.
If the Governing Board are aware of the signs of mental health issues in themselves and others, they can help ensure the smooth running of the school.
Please don’t sweep it under the carpet (which is what most people do) but be proactive.
And finally a huge thank you to my good friend Lisa Billingham of Precious Gems Wellbeing for her huge contribution to this article.
I hope you found this article useful and remember – NEVER be afraid to ask for help.
We don’t expect Governors to be fully aware of this subject so if you require more information about any of the issues discussed here and/or you think some training may help then please get in touch with me directly.
Ian is a school governance consultant.
He provides Governor training to a number of organisations and LA’s.
He has been a school governor for 25 years in primary, high school and academy establishments.
Away from his education work he a leading Keynote Speaker, Trainer & Business Coach.