Teachers 'walking away from the job to salvage their mental health'

Nearly two-thirds of teachers feel their job has adversely impacted their mental health, according to a survey

Henry Hepburn

Mental health: Teachers ‘walking away’ from the job to salvage their mental health

Nearly half of teachers in a survey needed to see a doctor or medical professional in the past year because of the strain their job was placing on their mental and physical health.

Almost two-thirds of the teachers surveyed by the NASUWT Scotland union felt their job had adversely affected their mental health in the past 12 months, while more than three-quarters reported that they had experienced an increase in workplace stress.

One in ten teachers said they had been prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope, while 7 per cent used or had increased their reliance on prescription drugs. Twelve per cent said they had undergone counselling and 3 per cent had been admitted to hospital.

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The survey also shows that in the past 12 months, as a result of their job:

  • 75 per cent of teachers had experienced anxiety.

  • 83 per cent had suffered from loss of sleep.

  • 21 per cent had increased their use of alcohol.

  • 9 per cent had suffered a relationship breakdown.

  • 2 per cent had self-harmed.

Over half of teachers said their job satisfaction had declined in the past 12 months and 55 per cent had seriously considered leaving the teaching profession in the past year.

The figures have been released to coincide with the NASUWT Scotland annual conference, which takes place in Glasgow today and tomorrow. The union said that “many of the factors driving the growth in mental health problems among teachers” are on the agenda, including “excessive workload, pupil indiscipline and adverse management practices”.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said it was “clear that the mental and physical health of too many dedicated and talented teachers is being broken” by such pressures.

Teachers suffering mental health problems

She added: “Many teachers are walking away from the profession to salvage their health and family relationships, and this, in turn, is understandably deterring new recruits from choosing a career in teaching.

“The NASUWT is acting on teachers’ concerns and has launched a trade dispute with employers and [deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney] calling for a new deal for teachers which tangibly addresses all of the issues which are driving the growth in stress and mental ill health among the profession.”

Jane Peckham, NASUWT national official for Scotland, said: “Too many schools have become toxic environments to work in, where constant pressure, bullying and unsustainable workloads are making teachers mentally and physically ill.

“Action to address this must start at the top. The solutions to begin to alleviate this issue are there but they need statutory force and concerted attention from ministers and employers to make sure teachers feel empowered and supported at work, not broken and exhausted.”

One teacher in the survey said: “I've been signed off for two weeks with work-related stress...the very first time since 1988 when I first graduated as a teacher. The workload and expectation by management of what I should do is phenomenal.”

Teachers 'broken and exhausted'

Another teacher said: “I can't switch off and I constantly feel I am critiqued as a professional. The goalposts are always moving and I feel like I am under pressure to deliver, which sucks the enjoyment out of learning. This ultimately filters through to how you, as a professional, do your job on a daily basis. The children deserve the best but you don't always have what you need to try and provide that.”

And another surveyed teacher said: “I dread going to work each morning, and check job adverts every evening. I am tired, and feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water planning for 18 pupils across five year groups, over half of which have learning/social emotional/behaviour problems.”

The findings are from the NASUWT’s Scotland Big Question survey, an annual survey of teachers on a range of issues affecting their wellbeing and professionalism. The online survey attracted 673 responses from NASUWT members in Scotland between February and April 2019.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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