It’s been a rough year for all of us, and many people on your campus — students and staff alike — may be struggling with their mental and emotional health. A mental health check-in is a fast way to get a sense of how your students and colleagues are really doing. Conducting regular mental health check-ins can provide space for people to be honest about how they’re feeling and seek the support that they need.
Have you done a mental health check-in with your school staff lately? Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
How a Mental Health Check-In Can Help Your School Staff
Even as adults, we often suffer with our mental health alone and in silence. Society’s stigma against mental health issues has forced us to feel like we can’t talk about our mental well-being openly, especially in professional settings.
At the same time, teachers are struggling with stress and burnout. Research shows that up to three-quarters of teachers feel stressed out at work on a regular basis. After the year we’ve all had, adults need mental health support just as much as our students do.
It’s important that teachers and other school staff feel comfortable enough at work to be open about how they’re truly feeling. It’s difficult for others to support you when they don’t know how you’re truly feeling. Talking about, instead of pushing down, symptoms of burnout is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself when you’re under a lot of stress.
Of course, professional boundaries must be maintained, and on-campus adults should never use their students as emotional support. Conducting a mental health check-in during staff meetings can create space for teachers and other professionals to safely and appropriately share their feelings. Ideally, creating this space will lead to less stress, burnout, and turnover among staff.
6 Mental Health Check-In Questions to Ask During Staff Meetings
To start incorporating mental health check-ins into your staff meetings, consider planning for them in the actual meeting agenda. Many people find it works best to start meetings with a quick check-in, but waiting until the end of the meeting may allow people to feel more comfortable (after getting “business” out of the way).
Also keep in mind that a staff meeting isn’t the only place you can do a mental health check-in, nor is it necessarily the most helpful. You can use these mental health check-in questions during individual meetings with teachers or annual reviews, as well.
If you’re feeling stuck on what exact questions to ask your staff, here are six ideas to get you started.
Breathe in and out, deeply, three times. Sit with the present moment, and notice how you’re feeling. What emotions come up for you today?
This question uses mindfulness of emotions to help school staff be honest about how they’re feeling during a mental health check-in. This might be a great question to start with if you find that many people in the meeting answer that they’re “fine.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is extremely relaxed and 10 is the most stressed you’ve ever felt), how stressed do you feel about work these days?
Some people find it easier to answer questions with a limited range of answers. You might like to follow this question up by inviting people to explain, briefly, why they chose the number they did.
What have your sleeping and eating habits been like lately?
Physical and mental health are interconnected. On top of that, mental health problems often cause changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Asking this question may give you insight into how your staff is feeling emotionally, but also may help them to reflect on improving their habits.
What is the best thing that has happened to you at work this week? What about outside of work?
Asking this question will invite your staff to practice gratitude both inside and outside of the job. Reflecting on the things that make the stressful job of teaching worthwhile may help shift your staff’s perspective and prevent burnout. Asking about their lives outside of work may remind your staff that a healthy work-life balance is key.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you at work/outside of work this week?
Asking only about the positive side of things may feel to your staff like you’re trying to sweep their very real concerns under the rug. Make sure you also hold space for your staff to talk about the not-so-wonderful side of teaching, too.
How much emotional support do you feel like you have at work?
Research shows that having “work best friends” is one of the best ways to prevent burnout and employee turnover. It’s important that your teachers have someone at work they feel like they can talk to about their work-related problems. Sometimes, the stresses of this profession are hard for anyone outside of teaching to understand.
How to Support Your Community’s Mental Health (After the Mental Health Check-In)
Make sure you pay attention to people’s answers during the check-in; a mental health check-in should be only the first step toward protecting your staff’s well-being.
If you recognize that one of your staff is struggling, it may be a good idea to follow up with them individually and privately. A mental health check-in gives you a quick snapshot of how your staff is feeling overall, but 1-on-1 follow-ups can give you a deeper sense of what’s going on.
You might decide to follow up with a staff member if they express things like:
- Going through recent life changes, like a divorce or a move
- Feeling burnt out, or describing symptoms of burnout like apathy, hopelessness, and frustration
- A lack of confidence at work
- Signs of compassion fatigue like feeling emotionally overwhelmed by their students’ traumatic experiences
- Feeling unhappy with work culture
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Listen to the struggling staff member with openness and empathy. Never judge or make anyone feel ashamed for struggling with their mental health, even if their struggles are getting in the way of their work performance. Try to avoid giving unsolicited advice -- simply listen and be present with the problem rather than trying to “fix” it.
You may want to try some of these active listening skills:
- Reflect back what you hear the person saying, and how you think they may be feeling.
- Ask open questions to invite the person to express more about how they’re feeling.
- Use appropriate non-verbal communication, like nodding and appropriate eye contact, to show that you’re listening.
- Be mindful and pay attention to how you feel in response to the staff member’s words.
- Don’t interrupt.
When it’s appropriate, offer to brainstorm solutions to your staff’s problems. Don’t be afraid to directly address the root of their stress. Solutions might look like offering more mental health support for staff. Keep in mind, however, that it might also look like making structure and policy changes when possible.
A school-wide mindfulness program not only helps students, but can also help teachers learn to manage their stress in a healthy way. Over 80% of the teachers who have participated in Calm Classroom’s programs say that the program has helped them feel less stressed and anxious.
To learn more about the mindfulness programs we offer, get in touch with us today.