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GUEST BLOG: Mental Health Nursery Rhymes

By Kate Moxley

Back in 2016, Løvgren drew our attention to Emotional Exhaustion in day-care workers, stating; ‘childcare workers have the second worst occupation for work-related health problems’ in Europe. Current figures, highlight an ‘epidemic of stress’, Asthana, Boycott-Owen 2018 report figures from Liberal Democrats research indicate an alarming number of teachers being signed off work with Mental Health related issues.  As Mental Health Awareness Week May 14-20, approaches, I thought I would share a story. It’s a true story and one that is my own.

I will get straight to the point. I thought for a long time, that in my role as an Early Years Manager I was indispensable. I will also admit I thought nobody could do my job better than me and things would fall apart if I wasn’t around. Unfortunately, this became a pretty stubborn armour that I wore around me for the six years I worked in an Infant School as a Childcare Manager. During this time, not content with working over 40 hours and launching, leading and managing a wraparound provision that became a full day care setting, I completed my Foundation Degree and BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Studies. So committed was I, that I was all consumed by these responsibilities that during that time I felt like I ate, slept and breathed early years and of course I really was just ‘fine’ – up until the moment I found I really wasn’t.

Something I have discovered in the last few years, (most) people don’t really like it if you discuss, mention or say the words; Mental Health, but if you say emotional wellbeing, self-care and maybe at a stretch mental wellbeing they might not be quite so terrified.

I am also discovering, that until we normalise the conversation – the words themselves will continue to make people uncomfortable. However, I strongly feel that if we keep repeating and using the word Mental Health in the same way perhaps, we repeat nursery rhymes – without a second thought, then maybe the misconceptions around mental Health will considerably diminish.

Let us consider that every single one of us have mental health – shocking I know, but last time I checked we all have brains in our heads and our mental health is you know, kind of, a lot to do with the function of our brains! In just the same way we prioritise our physical health, we need to prioritise our mental health.

Since when did we think it was a good idea to perpetuate the message that we are indispensable? Why has it become the done thing to reply to emails at all hours of the day, skip meals and lunch breaks and blur the lines between work, rest and play? We urgently need to begin to value and take precious steps to safeguard our health, with the same amount of passion and spirit as we afford the children that we work such long hours to care for. I recently read the wonderful book on Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff, Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, it was like reading a diary of things I’ve discovered since I left my position and put my self-care top of my to do list! One must consider why there is no mention of emotional wellbeing and mental health for staff in any of the Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Guidance? Oftentimes, it is only thought of in regard to the medication requirements, and checking staff are safe to work, rather then making real efforts to support and nurture the additional support staff may need with both physically and mentally.

The question we must ask is why do we not respect and take care of ourselves in the same way we care for children? To do our very best, we have to be at our very best, therefore we must be role models of mental health and physical health. Directors, managers, leaders and companies need to get up to speed and get with the programme – we must take responsibility of our own health and be more compassionate if we have a role leading and managing others. Oftentimes we are reacting to Mental Health issues when they arise in the work place, instead of ensuring preventative measures are embedded, perhaps if they were, then interventions will happen instinctively rather than wait until people reach breaking point. Truth be told that is rather tricky to do, if individuals like myself, continue the classic script of ‘I’m fine’ and take little or no steps to alleviate stresses and strains until it’s too late, we must take seriously the duty of care we have and make certain we get this right.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great working environment and lovely relationships with my colleagues some of whom have become lifelong friends, but events happened outside of my control, when I slipped a disc in my back, my nan passed away and a work colleague died unexpectedly, I was overwhelmed with stress and operating with high functioning anxiety. When I finally spoke out, I received care, support and understanding in abundance, how could my work place have put measures in place to support me, if even I had disregarded the signs and symptoms?

That is why I am passionate about speaking out, saying the words out loud, sharing my voice with others and encouraging others to make their voices heard too. I realise if mental health was more widely discussed then I would have had the knowledge to do something sooner, and in just the same way we access physical health care services, like a bad back, we seek help, we talk about it, we take steps to relieve the pain and actively prevent it.

Perhaps if all working environments actively promote emotional wellbeing strategies that become more than just a policy that see the light of day when it is merely a reactive measure, it will allow a culture of care and compassion – that has positive results on performance, sustainability and staff sickness. Imagine a work place that supports and nurtures emotional wellbeing, champions selfcare and prioritises mental and physical health? Surely that is not an ideology that is too farfetched and just maybe we can all begin to think it’s a good idea to work to live instead of live to work.


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