Anti-stigma mental health campaign Time to Change believes teachers have a key role to play in de-stigmatising mental health for young people

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Anti-stigma mental health campaign Time to Change believes teachers have a key role to play in de-stigmatising mental health for young people

Mental health is an important topic and always has been. There's no doubt that as a teacher you have, and will, come across it. And while you don't need to make yourself available for every student, by contributing to the reduction of stigma around mental health, you can create the right environment to facilitate important conversations.

Watch this video created by Time to Change.

As well as an extracurricular pastoral role in school and the classroom, teachers are on the front line of a rising demand for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The World Health Organisation predicts that within 20 years, more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.

Teachers do not have to be mental health experts

Whatever the causes or circumstances of a young person's mental health problems, teachers can make an enormous difference to young people's lives. "Teachers do not have to be mental health experts," emphasises Jo Loughran, head of Time to Change Children and Young People. Simply airing the subject of mental health or being the person a student can open up to in private makes the climate less toxic, she says.

Talking about mental health

  • Don't be afraid to ask how someone is. You won't always understand what's going on for a student, but lending an ear is the important part
  • People want support at different times and in different ways, so it's good to ask what might be helpful
  • Asking for support can be a difficult step for a student to take and it's usually a sign that they trust you

Taking away the taboo

Research carried out by Time to Change further shows that teachers are a natural port of call for young people. The majority of young people surveyed said they would turn to their family first, their peers second, but 20 per cent would wish to talk to a teacher about their problems. And, crucially, teachers are often around at the right time and in the right place to have these conversations.

Young people and mental health facts

  • In the average classroom, three students will experience a mental health problem
  • Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends if they were to talk about their mental health problems
  • You don't need to be an expert to talk about mental health. Just being open to the topic is significant

However, teachers may be overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility and fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing. "When it comes to mental health, teachers are simply a subset of the population and are subject to the same myths and misapprehensions," explains Loughran. The net result of these concerns is that mental health is swept under the carpet and is as taboo in schools as anywhere else.

This can mean that an opportunity is being missed to support young people and help them achieve their full potential, as mental ill health among school students is relatively common. The most recent British survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics of children and young people aged 5–15 years in 2004, found that 10 per cent had a clinically diagnosable mental illness.

Useful resources

As Time to Change stresses, just being open and available is key and the campaign has a list of helpful resources to enable teachers start a conversation or a longer term project. The crux of the advice is: be natural and open, listen and avoid clichés or making judgements. And continue talking about other topics during conversations, too.

Time to Change is an anti-stigma campaign run by leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Access Time to Change teacher resources here