October is Mental Health Awareness Month and a crucial opportunity to educate our communities on the importance of mental health. The Trevor Noah Foundation chose to honour mental wellness by offering our teachers a unique virtual support program through a partnership with My Online Therapist.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group estimates that as many as one in five people will, or does have a mental illness in their lives. Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and job stress, are common and have a massive effect in the broader community.
We recognise the importance of providing a holistic learning environment to learners by directly targeting the wellbeing of the people we entrust with their care, teachers. Our goal of equipping teachers with the tools and skills to deliver 21st Century education means that we have to focus on their mental health and wellbeing equally. Neglecting psychosocial support negatively impacts learning outcomes and can be attributed to high dropout rates among learners.
My Online Therapist recognises the burden placed on teachers, who often have to play both teacher and parent roles to learners. Now teachers have the added responsibility of being health and safety workers too, as a result of the Covid- 19 pandemic. In response to this, we partnered with My Online Therapist to address teacher wellness. Seventeen teachers from Willow Crescent Secondary School, our Khulani School, located in Eldorado Park, participated in the initiative, Wellness on WhatsApp.
A 28 day therapist-supported WhatsApp programme was developed by experienced health professionals and an empowerment coach. The objectives of Wellness on WhatsApp programme were three-fold;
- Improve knowledge of mental health
- Improve access to support systems
- Increase coping skills and helping behaviour for mental health
The teachers received varying degrees of support based on their needs, coupled with audio and messages developed by a therapist. A stress test was also conducted, which indicated that 50% of teacher participants scored in the high-stress level range. Considering the results, teachers were incredibly receptive to the much-needed intervention.
“I felt like I wasn’t alone because there are people thinking of me and understand what I feel like returning to school. I was scared to return to school, and after listening to the messages, I felt better.” – Ms N.
“It helped to calm me down. It helped me to know that I am not the only one who has these challenges, and I am not the only one scared and anxious.” – Mrs M.
“The peaceful place exercise was my favorite! I even did it with my children during bedtime prayers.” – Mrs M.
This method of delivering wellness support using mobile devices has afforded these teachers an opportunity that would not have otherwise been available as private therapy rates in South Africa are costly.
According to My Online Therapist, there are many benefits to digital mental health support, such as accessibility, cost-effectiveness and convenience. It also helps teachers in overcoming the stigma associated with receiving psychological support.
As the year draws to a close, and learners prepare to write their final examinations, creating a healthier schooling environment is more vital than ever. We hope that through this partnership, teachers will use the skills acquired to contribute to a healthy environment by practising positive coping skills, stress tolerance and compassion during these onerous Covid-19 times.
Curious as to how you can support teachers and learners in your community? My Online Therapist shares three tips:
1. Say Thank You…often!
Show appreciation and gratitude regularly. E.g. Send messages to your child’s teacher, feature the school in local newspaper/radio, check- in with the teachers, vouchers/discounts for teachers, sponsor mental health programmes for the school.
2. Show up!
Participate and invest in supporting teachers and learners’ mental health. For example, form a partnership with your child’s teacher through regular communication, step in at school events, invite the teachers/learners to participate in your community events, or organise physical education/recreational programmes for learners and teachers.
3. Get social!
Create opportunities to be social with teachers and learners. For example, start a teacher hiking group, plan a “let’s connect” school picnic or braai.