Mental health (in ELT)


Yesterday, I found postcards like these (see left) scattered around the coffee area at work, along with leaflets, badges and teabags! I was intrigued, so I picked one up.

It turns out that the postcards (and the rest) were reminders that today, 5 February, is Time To Talk Day in the UK.

Time to Talk Day is part of the Time to Change campaign, both of which aim “to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination” across England.

The idea is simple:


The whole “Time to Change” campaign is led by two UK-based charities, Mind* and Rethink Mental Illness. But although these initiatives are based in the UK, mental health is not. In my view, supporting good mental health is an international responsibility.

In fact, there are at least four good reasons why I feel it is important to blog about mental health today:

  1. ELT professionals work with people from around the world on a daily basis. Forget ‘around the world’ — we work with people on a daily basis. And some people sometimes experience mental health problems, just as some people sometimes experience physical health problems. We have a responsibility to be aware of this.
  2. It is clear to me from my experience that people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds actually tend to have a lot in common. In a language classroom, these differences and similarities all come together and we learn from each other. Our minds unite us. We have a responsibility to look after them.
  3. Something as important and as common as mental health issues should not be stigmatised. It’s absurd. I remember hearing Stephen Fry, well-known British TV personality and author (and President of Mind), once say in a TV chat show interview: when someone breaks their leg, everyone understands. They’re sympathetic. They don’t shrink away from acknowledging it, discussing it, supporting the person. Why should mental health be any different from physical health? Just because we can’t see the problem so easily? Language teachers are used to dealing with ‘invisible’ difficulties. We should be able to address mental health.
  4. It’s time to break the taboo around mental health, not only in our profession but we can get the ball rolling here. Like a quarter of people in the UK, and certainly many other people worldwide, I myself have experienced mental health issues first hand. Clearly, experiencing depression in the past has not hindered my life or career. There is no reason why it should. And equally, there is no reason why such normal experiences should be stigmatised.

The Time to Change website is packed with useful stuff for raising awareness of mental health in various aspects of a community, including the areas of education, sports, health centres, the church and more. But here on my blog, I’m just going to highlight a few of the things especially useful to schools and language professionals.

1. Mind your language!

Before going any further, it might be helpful to highlight some of the preferred terms for referring to mental health and mental illness (as well as those terms which might cause offence or perpetuate inaccuracy or stigma in discussions of mental health).

Fortunately, the Time to Change website includes a helpful guide to English phrases to avoid, and those which are preferable, when talking about mental health. Find it here.

2. Statistics, myths and facts

Did you know that:

  • in the UK, 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in any given year?
  • in the UK, 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem?
  • we probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem?
  • 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination?

These could make interesting conversation starters for a lesson (an issue to be treated sensitively, of course — as with all classroom decisions, know your students!). Find more here.

3. Conversation starters

This terrific conversation starter was handed to me in King’s Cross station this morning by a volunteer! You may have seen these before. I certainly played with them at school as a child. They’re easy to make (download a template here and get instructions for using it here) and to personalise. Here are pictures of the one I was given today:



4. More resources and downloads

There are loads more great things to download here, including postcards, posters, conversation starter cards, a speed dating game and more.

5. YL toolkit

“1 in 10 children and young people experience a mental health problem at any one time. (That’s three pupils in the average school classroom.)”

This resource pack helps teens to make an action plan to raise awareness in their school or community of mental health.

It includes useful information which could be used/adapted for reading practice, ideas for blogging and social media, links to videos and an online interactive story “to encourage young people to talk about mental health as though it’s common and everyday”, a SWOT analysis to help the students think critically about how their awareness-raising campaign might be implemented, and practical guidance on how to write, implement and finally evaluate the campaign.

The whole pack is brief but clear and colourful and could easily be adapted for use in an ELT environment.

TTC_TTTDay_HashtagThat’s all for now – time to stop reading and start talking!


*You might like to hear well-known British television personality, author and President of Mind, Stephen Fry, talk about its work here:


7 thoughts on “Mental health (in ELT)

  1. Thank you very much for putting this together. I’ve experienced depression at various points in my life, most recently due to other ‘hidden’ health problems which people are also reluctant to talk about (colitis/digetstive problems), but also due to severe homesickness in the past. As you say, it’s important to consider this when dealing with the people we meet every day, and to make sure we talk to others. The biggest thing that got me out of it was keeping busy and talking it out with other people, or just talking and filling my time. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes, and I’d urge anybody to make use of the conversation starter (ideas) to get talking to people around them. You never know: you might be just the listening ear someone needs.
    Thanks Laura.

  2. As someone who has never had a mental health problem so far this has been an eye opener. Thanks for bringing together all these resources and highlighting the numbers for us. I am, as you suggest, sensitised to other hidden problems, dyslexia for example, but haven’t really paid attention to the mental health aspect of my students. Many of them must be under intense pressure and stimuli beyond their control while studying in the UK, away from family and friends who they could turn to at home. Thanks again for pointing out the possible problems.

    1. Thanks, Ian. Glad you found it useful. I think it’s really important to be aware of the fact that our industry is full of PEOPLE, first and foremost – some of whom are teachers, some of whom are learners, some of whom do something else; but all of whom are people and can experience mental health issues which might not be immediately apparent to those around them. So we need to be aware, sensitive, thoughtful and professional.

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