One in 20 teachers in England is taking antidepressants, according to a study published today.
The study, by UCL Institute of Education, found an increase in the percentage of teachers prescribed antidepressants medication – from around 1 per cent in the early 2000s to around 5 per cent today.
The study analysed data over more than a quarter of a century, between 1992 and 2018, for more than 20,000 teachers and education professionals, and is the first piece of research to examine the mental health and wellbeing of teachers in England over time.
Lead author Professor John Jerrim, of UCL Institute of Education, said: “The teaching profession in England is currently in the midst of a crisis and one potential reason why it's struggling to recruit and retain enough teachers is due to the pressures of the job.
“It has long been known that teaching is a stressful and challenging career and we wanted to see if the mental health and wellbeing of teachers had improved or declined, especially in light of government promises to ease the burden upon the teaching profession.”
Fears for teacher mental health
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the study also found that 5 per cent of teachers in England now say that they suffer from a long-lasting mental health problem that has lasted (or is likely to last) for more than 12 months. This is up from just 1 per cent in the 1990s.
The study finds, however, that this increase is not specific to education, and can also be observed for other professionals. For instance, nurses, accountants and human-resources workers are also now much more likely to report suffering from a long-lasting mental health problem than in the 1990s.
Researchers also acknowledge that this could be due to professional workers, including teachers, now being more willing to talk about such issues and to seek help.
Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO at Education Support, the UK’s mental health and wellbeing charity for education staff, said: “The sharp rise in teachers reporting long-term mental health conditions mirrors the increase in the severity of cases that we support through our counselling helpline. Teachers are presenting with ever more severe mental health symptoms.
“Education Support’s 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index confirmed that work-related anxiety and depression are at high levels in education – higher than the general workforce. We welcome this longitudinal analysis: it enriches our collective understanding of the complex interaction between work-related stress and mental health.”
Researchers based their analysis upon three data sources: The Labour Force Survey, the Annual Population Survey and the Health Survey for England.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are already taking action in this area in order to strengthen work-life balance and wellbeing for teachers. This includes reducing workload, supporting early career school teachers, promoting flexible working and tackling accountability pressures, as well as supporting schools to deal with behaviour management.
“Our Expert Advisory Group examines how teachers and school leaders can be better supported to deal with the pressures of the job, building on our Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, which focuses on the importance of developing supportive cultures.”