One in ten teachers taking antidepressants to cope with work stresses

Union leaders have called for 'mental health first-aid' to be made available in all schools, allowing both staff and pupils access to professional counselling

Rachael Pells
Monday 17 April 2017 00:11 BST
Six in 10 teachers say their job has impacted on their mental health in the past 12 months
Six in 10 teachers say their job has impacted on their mental health in the past 12 months (Getty/iStock)

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Louise Thomas

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Excessive workloads and lack of support are making teachers depressed “to the point of suicidal tendencies”, new figures reveal, prompting fresh concerns for teacher welfare.

Evidence presented from 4,908 teachers across the country suggests more than one in 10 are taking antidepressants to cope with work stresses.

Six in 10 teachers say their job has impacted on their mental health in the past 12 months, and many reported turning to alcohol, medication and other drugs as a coping strategy.

The survey, led by the NASUWT union, found 12 per cent of respondents had undergone counselling in the past year and 11 per cent – slightly higher than the national average – had used or increased their reliance on anti-depressants.

“I often think about self-harming or crashing the car so I don't have to go to work,” one teacher responded.

“Pushed to the point of suicidal tendencies,” stated another.

Four per cent had been admitted to hospital as a result of work-related illness and a smaller percentage said they had self-harmed.

The figures come amid growing concerns over “unfair workloads” coupled with staff shortages as a result of a recruitment and retention “crisis” in education.

A separate survey last week revealed almost half of young teachers are considering quitting the profession, with many citing mental health concerns as a cause.

Many said they faced working more than 60 hours a week and the vast majority (85 per cent) said they found it “very difficult” to achieve some form of work-life balance.

Commenting on the latest figures, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said all schools should be providing “mental health first-aid”, giving both staff and pupils access to counselling when needed.

“It is clear that for too many teachers the job is taking an unacceptable toll on their health and wellbeing and that this is affecting all aspects of their personal and professional lives,” she said.

Consistent stress and worry can also prevent teachers from giving their best to the children they teach, she added.

Four out of five teachers (83 per cent) surveyed by the union said their job has had an adverse impact on their wellbeing, with many admitting they are often too worn down to give their job their best effort.

“I am leaving the profession,” said one teacher, giving evidence. “For the sake of my physical and mental health I have no alternative. I worry about my financial future but my health must come first.”

More than two thirds said their job prevented them from giving adequate time to their partner, family and friends, and almost one in 10 said work had contributed towards the breakup of a relationship in the past year.

“My husband has left me because I'm always working,” said another anonymous member.

“Employers have responsibility for the mental health and wellbeing of their staff but few address this seriously,” said Ms Keates.

“However,” she added, “prevention is better than cure and the driving factors behind the rise in teacher stress need to be effectively addressed by Government to tackle the growing epidemic of low morale, burnout and stress which is conspiring to make teaching an increasingly unattractive profession.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for a response.

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