How do you tell your line manager you feel mentally unwell?
With mental health issues having now overtaken back problems as the main reason for doctors to write a sick note, managing mental health is something all employers have to take notice of.
Mental health is being reported more and more especially in the education sector where a phenomenal 75% of teachers reported mental health issues such as anxiety or depression when surveyed by Education Support Partnership. “64% of education professionals felt they could disclose that they were suffering mental health problems to their employer, which is significantly higher than the UK workforce as a whole (44%).”
All present and correct
‘Presenteesim’ is the name scientists have given to the condition of being at work when you really should be home because of illness. Being at work when suffering from a mental health issue can compound the problem and cause longer term issues which may have a bigger impact than any original absence from work would have.
Sadly you don’t have to look very far to find the reasons why teachers prefer to stoically soldier on: stories of schools hounding teachers to complete school tasks from their sick bed, or describing the huge guilt teachers feel when away from the classroom are all too easy to find. But this is not right. The 2010 Equality Act protects anyone suffering disability due to a mental health issues and states very clearly what employers must do to accommodate anyone disclosing this fact. Here are six steps to talking about your mental health and the main points all teachers and school staff should know:
Check whether your specific mental health issues can be classed as a disability. You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
The criteria is quite broad and well defined so you might be surprised that your situation is included, even if you don’t think of it as disabling. If you find you are classed as disabled due to your mental health issues you do not have to inform anyone in your workplace but, if you choose to, you have disability rights.
2. Secure a medical opinion
If your mental health issues do not classify you as having a disability, but you are still experiencing difficulties managing day to day life then getting a doctor’s opinion might help your employer understand your situation more clearly.
Remember 1 in 3 people have experienced mental health issues at work so you will certainly not be the first and the NHS report that, at any one time, 1 in 6 of us is experiencing mental health issues.
3. Make it one-to-one
If you decide to inform your line manager, ask for a one-to-one private meeting and be honest about what you feel you can and cannot do at the current time. The meeting should be an exchange of ideas as to how to help you manage your situation in the workplace, not where you apologise for being another drain on the school’s resources.
You should be treated professionally and with empathy.
4. Reasonable adjustments
A school has a number of options available to support a colleague with mental health issues and their first action should be to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help accommodate you so that you can continue to work, if you feel you can. Examples of this could be: making working hours more flexible by job sharing, having additional support in the classroom, more PPA; having access to specific counselling or supervision, either from external sources or an internal mentoring scheme.
No two people experience mental health issues the same so ask for what you think will help. You are the expert on your own condition and what you require.
5. Seek union advice
If you find your line manager or any SLT member dismissive or unsupportive then your union may also have some excellent resources concerning your rights at work. Don’t be afraid to speak up.Your mental health is a crucially important part of your ability to perform as a teacher and should be attended to as a matter of priority.
6. Mental health training
As a wider demonstration of support, schools should ensure that mental health issues are taken seriously and discussed via specific INSET and CPD. The school community is the sum of all its staff so mental health and wellness should be seen as a priority.
Don’t forget that there are many sources of help and support you can turn to if you are feeling overwhelmed by it all. A full list of where you can go for help can be downloaded here.