Stress driving quarter of teachers to take medication

1st October 2016 at 00:01
Teacher stress
Unions blame the ‘pernicious’ effect of workload and testing, as survey reveals serious health concerns

More than a quarter of teachers have turned to medication to cope with stress at work, a major new survey reveals.

The research, based on a sample of more than 1,000 primary and secondary teachers, also finds that nearly a third (31 per cent) have been to the doctor for the same reason and 15 per cent have received counselling.

Unions and teachers blamed the findings on the “pernicious’ effect of excessive workload and the high-stakes accountability system, which they said was making teachers ill and driving them from the profession.

Some 5 per cent of respondents blamed relationship break-ups on work-related stress.

Mike Stuchbery, a former teacher, who gave an account of his own work-induced mental breakdown in TES earlier this month, said that he was “not at all surprised” to hear of high numbers of staff on medication – which could include everything from anti-depressants and beta blockers to painkillers and antibiotics.

"The average teacher is perpetually put under greater pressure to deliver results across a narrower band of subject matter,” he said. “Weekends and evenings are expected by the senior leadership team. If the finish line keeps getting moved, no wonder people exhaust themselves, get sick, collapse."

Ofsted inspections top the list of the most stressful events in the school year and nearly three-quarters of teachers (74 per cent) say that teaching is more stressful now than when they started their careers.

The Censuswide survey, commissioned by Towergate Insurance, finds that 26 per cent of teachers have taken medication because of work-related stress.

Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Education Support Partnership, said: “Taking medication can be an appropriate solution to alleviate the symptoms those in education experience, just as talking therapies and better-resourced professional organisational development support in schools can be, too.

“But ultimately it is widely recognised that a step change in education funding and policy are required if we are to see a lasting eradication of the causes of such conditions.”

Mr Stanley’s charity published its own survey earlier this year, which found that 84 per cent of teachers had suffered mental health problems over the past two years. The vast majority (81 per cent) of these teachers attributed their issues to excessive workload.

Helen Bernabe, from Towergate’s education division added:

“It’s very concerning to see the large numbers of teachers that are feeling extremely stressed in their jobs - and what's even more concerning is the level of stressed teachers turning to medication to be able to do their jobs.

"Teachers play an incredibly important role in our society, educating our next generation and we must ensure that they all feel supported, enthused and happy in the profession they are all committed to."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Unnecessary workload is one of the biggest frustrations for teachers and we are working with the profession to ensure we address concerns over workload. We trust heads, governors and academy trusts to look after their staff.”

This is an edited article from the 23 September edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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