“Be Kind, for Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle” ~ source unknown
This summer, like the majority of the world, I was both shocked and saddened to hear that Robin Williams, the outstanding actor and comedian, had taken his own life.
One of the discussions triggered by the news of Robin’s death was the wider issue of mental health. It was unfortunate, to say the least, to hear a few insensitive and ill-informed comments about Robin: ‘he had everything that he needed’, ‘he had all the money, why would he take his life?’
From what we know about mental health, it does not discriminate – it is an illness; it covers a wide spectrum, including anxiety/stress as well as severe depression.
The statistic from Mind UK is that, at any given time, one in six employees is suffering from a mental illness.
Therefore, even within a small Early Years setting, there could be a member of staff who is suffering in silence.
A few years ago, my awareness of mental health was heightened when a close friend came within inches of taking her own life. For me it was helpful to find out as much as possible, to try to understand and support as best as I could. Thankfully, my friend is now doing fine both physically and emotionally. However, there are many who are not so lucky: my brother’s friend, aged 19, and when I was at school my friend’s mum, leaving behind four young children.
I do believe we need to do more as a sector in supporting staff with mental health issues. During my training and consultancy I have sometimes observed staff who are ‘struggling in silence.’
We know that within the EYFS there is a focus on one-on-one supervision, where line managers should have a duty to discuss well-being, emotional intelligence and maturity. However, this only scratches the surface; if the employee is suffering with a mental illness, professional support is needed. Equally, to keep the boundaries clear, managers shouldn’t take on the roll of ‘counsellor’ even if they are trained to do so. Instead, they should know where they can sign post staff to.
I would like to see the Department for Education raising awareness of mental health and working with mental health organisations, mental health drugs, as well as providing professional development for all levels of staff on the range of mental health issues and sharing resources and names of organisations that can support employees with mental health issues.
The cliché is that if one has a broken arm, one gets sympathy, but not if one has a mental illness, which can’t be seen from the outside. More often than not the individual hides or masks the problem by taking time off work with another illness such as the flu, so not to bring attention to themselves or their mental illness and the stigma that is still attached to mental health.
It is even more important that we support staff in this sensitive area, especially as they are role models to children – children are highly skilled at picking up conscious and unconscious emotions from staff.
Every child matters, so does every member of staff!
The charity Mind has useful advice, information and guidance for employers and employees:
By discussing we can make changes and make a difference – to so many.
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