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Supporting Staff Wellbeing: Psychotherapist Noel McDermott Offers Advice for the Education Sector

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott
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Those working within the education sector (teachers, assistants, lecturers, caretakers, educational psychologists etc) have like all frontline workers faced enormous pressures over the last year.

Stress and anxiety about infection and cross infection have raised genuine concerns in teachers about how the virus would affect them and their families. Ongoing headlines suggesting over a million will have long covid continue to add to the sense of fear. All of this and the need to create the most radical shakeup of how education is delivered virtually overnight has been profoundly challenging. As we get back to some semblance of normality and as teachers prepare for the Summer term, the re-entry phase could be bumpy for some. 

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments:

“As an educationalist you are not a mental health worker or a treatment provider, so accept your boundaries and bring in the experts. This will be the primary resource in protecting your own mental health, knowing your limits.” 

Those on the frontline in schools, colleges and universities need to ensure they are linking into support around them and not being drawn into a situation where they might find themselves in over their heads. Additional support has been identified to help the mental health of children in our schools after the pandemic interruptions, with the expansion of the mental health support teams set up in 2017. This emphasis on teams and multi-modal responses is crucial for educational staff to link into.

Advice for those working in the education sector:

  • Talk to other colleagues about concerns 
  • Talk to leaders in your setting about concerns
  • Observe appropriate limits to student confidentiality and don’t make promises to keep secrets
  • Use the teams wider than your setting to get help, such as CAMHS, social services, mental health support teams

All frontline workers may be experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms after this last year and being able to spot these and seek help sooner rather than later is vital in terms of speedy and full recovery from psychological distress. 

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Things to look out for in yourself and others are:

  • Significant changes to sleep patterns
  • Significant changes to appetite and eating habits
  • Unusual weight gain or loss
  • Mood swings and a sudden mood change
  • Signs of self-harm such as scars or bruising, especially on legs or arms
  • Withdrawal or being secretive 
  • Increased use of alcohol or substance misuse
  • Unusual aggression and losing temper
  • ‘Clingy’ behaviour or unusual reassurance seeking 

These are some typical signs of psychological distress and if you see them in your students raise the alarm, get an assessment done. If you see them in a loved one do the same and crucially if you see them in yourself do exactly the same!

Modern psychological therapies teach more effective methods for managing stress, anxiety and depression and are skills that improve mental fitness and wellbeing globally in an individual. Whilst there is no one size fits all these are the general areas where evidence shows we can improve our mental fitness (resilience). As they say in the safety talk on an airplane, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you try to help others. Follow the simple steps below:

  • Have good sleep
  • Eat well
  • Rest regularly
  • Exercise regularly
  • Learn the signs of distress in yourself and act on them to get help
  • Get outside a lot especially in parks/nature
  • Socialise with friends and share your troubles
  • Learn meditation
  • Make a list of self-care activities and do them!
  • Educate yourself on mental health matters
  • Be open with your doctor about your psychological distress as they can offer a range of services from medication to social prescribing https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/
  • Use IAPT services if you are struggling https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/

Above all hold onto the bigger meaning in this situation. You are positively contributing to the lives of young people and ensuring they have a better future. Being able to see the bigger purpose in our daily struggles allows us to grow positively from challenging times. We are not victims of this situation, but active agents of change in our own lives and that of others. This mindset is shown to make a significant difference in our psychological wellbeing and also in our life outcomes. Finding meaning and purpose from our lives could be seen as one of our central tasks.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments:

“The stakes couldn’t be higher, and yet the last few weeks we have seen and heard remarkable things, especially children playing happily in our local school playgrounds. This gives us hope for the future, things will be okay if our kids are okay and indeed that is true, and to make that a reality we need to ensure the people who make our kids okay are cared for themselves”. 

Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental HealthWorks Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home.

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