It’s Mental Health Awareness Week – so I thought I would share something that has been on my mind over the weekend.At the West Midlands Ofsted Big Conversation on Friday, a question was put to the panel about staff mental health and where do settings stand if staff are suffering with depression – is it safe for them to be at work? There was a somewhat unclear response, I remember the words stable and safe, however, it was clear that this was a tricky subject and there was not a confident reply or answer to this question. I have also seen post on Facebook groups around this subject – and some of the conversation was as infuriating as the reply from Ofsted. So let me try.
When we say mental health – it is a broad term, that covers out physiological health – the health of our brain. Some people still flinch when I say, we all have mental health. It’s just that some of us aren’t so good at taking care of our mental health in the same way some people aren’t good at taking care of our physical health. Certainly, some people have complex mental health illnesses – in just the same way others have complex physical health issues and these must taken seriously with advice from doctors.
We have a huge responsibility to ensure we look after the mental health of employees and the children in our care. Let us consider why in this country we appear to have been only prioritising and promoting our physical health? For example, the children we look after each day, we have risk assessments for just about single little thing with regard to physical risk and injury. But let me ask you, have you got a risk assessment to identify the negative impact something may have on children’s emotional wellbeing i.e. their mental health? Because it’s just as damaging, today and throughout this week, you will see hear and read all about the rising figures of mental health of adults and children in this country.
Interestingly, there is nothing in our EYFS statutory framework or guidance that discusses mental health – of staff or children. We are told in 2019, there will be a new EYFS framework, I hope this changes. Currently, we have suitable people and medication. Let me start with suitable people;
3.9. Providers must ensure that people looking after children are suitable to fulfil the requirements of their roles. Providers must have effective systems in place to ensure that practitioners, and any other person who is likely to have regular contact with children (including those living or working on the premises), are suitable19.
This is what we have to go by, this broad and ambiguous statement and the medication section states,
3.19. Practitioners must not be under the influence of alcohol or any other substance which may affect their ability to care for children. If practitioners are taking medication which may affect their ability to care for children, those practitioners should seek medical advice. Providers must ensure that those practitioners only work directly with children if medical advice confirms that the medication is unlikely to impair that staff member’s ability to look after children properly. Staff medication on the premises must be securely stored, and out of reach of children, at all times.
My reply to the question from last week about staff being fit for work if they are on medication and diagnosed with depression or anxiety would be the same as if someone had a broken leg and were taking medication. Are they fit for work? Are they suitable to be undertaking the tasks, roles and responsibilities in their job description? If I can make reasonable adjustments or adaptations to their role are they fit for work then? This is where performance management and the quality of your staff supervision is key, how well supported are they, are you doing all you can to ensure they can do their job effectively. Return to work discussions, are not a form filling, tick list – waste of time, they are important, because not only do they support the employee. They demonstrate how you have taken very reasonable measure to support this individual during their return to work. In my previous role, as part of our HR we were able to refer to occupational health and as part of that we could request free counselling sessions. This was a service that we could utilise, a resource that was invaluable and yet nobody knew about it. Are you aware as an employer or employee what services you have available to you? It’s worthwhile that you do.
Most recently I have been using my voice a lot – to share my opinions, thoughts and feelings, encouraging others to join voices and do the same. I urge you to join voices with me on mental health – in a profession where we give so much of ourselves to others, it is hugely important we begin to take the time for our own self-care and wellbeing in just the same way we do for others.