Stressed staff 'must seek help'

4th July 2008 at 01:00
But union leader warns admission of mental health problems could harm teachers' careers

But union leader warns admission of mental health problems could harm teachers' careers

Fear of being sacked should not stop teachers with mental health problems from seeking help, says new government guidance.

But a union leader is warning that teachers' careers could be damaged by admitting problems, and that they should approach their doctors before telling their schools.

The guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families says: "Some people put off looking for help because they think that they will inevitably lose their job if they have a problem. Most staff are easily treated and, with temporary adjustments, do return to work."

It advises heads and governors that the Disability Discrimination Act applies to mental as well as physical disability and employers must make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate the needs of staff who have had a mental health condition for more than a year.

This might mean a phased return to work, job-share, more flexible timetable, or support from a teaching assistant or confidential mentor.

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "I am afraid that our experience shows that schools can be very unforgiving places if teachers are mentally ill from stress . Admissions of these problems can lead to capability proceedings. We deal with far too many cases like that."

John Illingworth, a former Nottingham primary head who had to leave teaching after stress-related illness, agreed. "When teachers become ill because of work and are open and honest enough to say they have got a problem," he said, "their employers will often say, `It is down to other things in your life, not work.' There are some good things in this guidance but it should have been tougher on employers. They must take some responsibility for being the cause of these problems, but they are in denial, as is the Government."

Last year, a survey by the Teacher Support Network, which advised on the guidance, found more than two-thirds of teachers questioned had seen their physical health, professional performance and personal life suffer from stress, with more than a third taking time off to cope.

The guidance says teachers often carry on for a long time before admitting they cannot cope because they are dedicated to their jobs, concerned about the negative reaction of others, and in denial. It advises them not to see mental health conditions as a failure but as something that could happen to anyone.

Go to http:publications.teachernet.gov.uk then type in "common mental health problems".

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