On the 7th July (I know, I know, catching up…) I attended Phil Longwell’s IATEFL webinar about Mental Health Training for Employers within ELT.
He started by talking about research that he did, which he presented at IATEFL earlier this year, from which key things that came out were
- most people think it’s a bad idea to disclose mental health issues
- there is fear of reaction in the countries/cultures in question
- there is still a lot of stigma around mental health
- a small number people think it is a good idea to disclose in order to draw on support and to challenge stigma
For Phil’s write-up of his research and findings, please click here.
Then we considered stress. Lots of factors can cause it, there are no universal reasons and it is contextual. In teaching, things that can contribute are:
- job insecurity
- meeting deadlines
- demanding parents
- large class sizes
- lack of support/appreciation
Phil’s mantra to combat perfectionism and related stress is: “Good enough is good enough.”
Burnout is a significant cause of stress. You may feel overwhelmed by workload and expectations, you may feel complete exhaustion and that you can’t go on. There are various signs of it e.g. moaning, groaning, complaining, change in behaviour, over motivation and enthusiasm, absenteeism, missing deadlines, days off, extended sick leave. Acting on automatic pilot, avoiding contact with others and avoiding eye contact. However, none of these individually is in itself a sign of burnout, if a number are occurring over a certain period of time, it may be indicated.
We also looked at depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, OCD, psychosis, panic disorder/panic attacks and schizophrenia. We had to identify each based on lists of symptoms. It was a thought-provoking exercise.
Many of these conditions will be hidden to a manager unless they are disclosed. They are “invisible” conditions. Drink, drugs and addictions can have an effect on these conditions. They may be used as coping mechanisms but can actually make things worse. For example, people smoke to relieve anxiety but it can make the anxiety worse.
Then we looked at the ALGEE model for helping people who are suffering from a mental health issue.
Anxiety attacks/panic attacks are most likely to occur at work. The reason they occur is that something persuades the amygdala in the brain that there is danger. Therefore, if possible, somebody who is having one needs to get away from the trigger. If somebody has one, you need to help encourage them to gain control of their breathing again. They can last for a long time. You don’t need to be a doctor/medical professional to help someone. Just being there and trying to help them realise that the threat isn’t there.
Institutions can help support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees in a variety of ways:
“A beginner’s guide to being mental: An A-Z from Anxiety to Zero F*ks given” is a book by Natasha Devon that Phil recommends.
He finished with a quotation from his research:
He also provided us with some mental health resources and his references:
Thank you Phil, it was a really interesting and interactive webinar.
I work in an environment that can be very stressful and demanding at certain times – key assessment periods and so on – but fortunately it is also a very supportive environment which to me has made a lot of difference. I think having supportive colleagues is extremely helpful when it comes to mental health. I also think ELT in general has an added layer of complication when it comes to jobs and mental health, in that for many people it involves moving abroad and integrating into a new place and culture, learning a new language etc. Dealing with all of those pressures, wonderful though they can be, is a massive extra load on top of the actual work aspect of it all. For myself, I find that my mental health is better now that I am back home, much as I enjoyed working abroad. I have a much better support network outside work (which I think is important) and I can pursue the hobbies that I love (running and cycling) in the countryside that I love, which is something that I struggled to do while abroad as I was afraid to cycle and lived in cities so running (my kind of running) was very limited. As such, I think it is really positive that mental health/wellbeing is being discussed more openly within ELT. I hope it continues to be the case so that progress can keep being made in this area.
To close, here is a useful set of resources about mental health in ELT from Sandy Millin.
Edit: Half an hour or after I published this post, an email came round from “Juice” – they are the Sheffield uni health and wellbeing lot – which amongst other things reminded us about the new staff resources for mental health which were launched in May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. Quite a comprehensive resource! It’s not for nothing that I feel grateful to work here.