Nearly half of teachers struggling with mental health, suggests survey

Expert says every school in Scotland should have a counsellor to help deal with teaching's unique demands

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

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Nearly half of respondents to a poll on teacher wellbeing said their mental health was poor, fuelling fears that growing numbers are struggling to cope with the profession’s changing demands.

A significant proportion also take medication because of their job. And the convener of a national mental health helpline has said that the demands of teaching are so exceptional that a counsellor should be stationed in every school.

The survey was started earlier this month by Jenny Harvey, a Fife special needs teacher, who was taken aback by the volume of responses – 778 at the last count.

Some 45 per cent said that their mental health was “poor” or “very poor”, and 15 per cent reported taking medication because of the stresses of their work.

Ms Harvey was surprised by some findings, such as almost every respondent having felt the “heavy burden” of guilt about the educational experience they offered pupils.

“We just want the best for our pupils and sometimes we feel more could be done for them,” she said. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day or resources that we need.”

Tony McLaren, the national co-ordinator of Breathing Space, the NHS mental health helpline in Scotland, told TESS of a rise in demand from schools for its services in the past five years, with specialist staff invited to speak to both teachers and pupils.

“Teachers often laugh and joke about the demands of their job, but that often masks high stress levels,” said Mr McLaren. He added: “In an ideal world, every school would have a counsellor that any teacher or pupil could drop into.”

Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association president Euan Duncan said: “The lack of control teachers have over their timetable, including breaks, makes it very difficult to take respite when it is needed. In most occupations, you can shut your door and have a coffee if things get on top of you.”

The EIS union has seen increased casework around mental health, which general secretary Larry Flanagan described as “extremely worrying”. He added: “The severe workload pressure increasingly placed on staff is a likely contributory factor to the growing number of stress-related mental health issues that members are reporting.”

A Scottish government spokesman said that the administration was committed to reducing teacher workload and had undertaken a range of actions to achieve this. He added: “Mental health first-aid training to support educational staff and young people is being rolled out by Education Scotland and NHS Health Scotland.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 February edition of TESS. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. TESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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