Doctors are writing anxious teachers prescriptions for self-help books. Dorothy Lepkowska reports
Stressed-out teachers are to be prescribed self-help books by their GPs instead of Prozac, under a scheme launched in the North-east of England yesterday.
They will be sent to the library rather than their local pharmacy in an attempt to combat their problems.
Staff suffering from mild anxiety and depression will also be offered a free diary in which they can note down incidents that happen during the day, and try to work out why these made them feel angry, sad or hurt.
Helen Thompson, a group manager for libraries at Durham county council, said doctors were becoming reluctant to prescribe drugs or counselling for mild conditions.
"People who work in a high- pressure environment, like teaching, tend to ignore the early symptoms probably because they feel they can't afford time off work, or perhaps because they think it is too insignificant to 'bother'
a doctor," she said.
"Stress and depression feed on themselves, and before long things can spiral out of control.
"Self-help books are like having someone to talk to without having to take that extra step of taking drugs. It's like thinking out loud."
The scheme has been launched in Chester-le-Street, Sacriston and Pelton and is available to all patients.
Ms Thompson said teachers would find it particularly useful because they have a good level of literacy and some of the books can be hard to understand.
"Teachers are also used to dealing with problem-solving and by the very nature of the job, are aware of the benefits of doing things for themselves," she said.
A book entitled Mind over Mood, which explores solutions for problems including poor anger management, loss of confidence and mild depression is among those most likely to help teachers, she said.
Ms Thompson said that only books tested by mental health practitioners would be issued, as well as those proven to work when used correctly.
"When someone is prescribed a book, the doctor will issue a written prescription which the patient takes to their local library, where staff will exchange it for the book," she added.
New figures from the Teacher Support Network show that more than 17,000 teachers seek help and advice every year with professional and personal problems. About 16 per cent of calls are linked to work-related stress.
The organisation has recently launched a web service, called Teacher Support Online, where staff can receive help by email.
Patrick Nash, chief executive of Teacher Support Network, said:
"Initiatives by employers which give teachers access to professionally-accredited counselling and coaching are very welcome.
"But we know that certain mental health issues require a referral to a medical professional and this must not be overlooked."
Roger Griffin, a biology teacher who is off school with stress, said: "It's quite a good idea but I would worry about the stigma of having to go into a library to get such a book and everyone knowing it had been prescribed.
"The thing about stress-related illness is that you want to talk to someone, and a book doesn't necessarily fill that requirement. However, the general concept of self-help is a good one."
Jane White, a secondary teacher from Somerset, had time off six years ago with stress, and used a combination of medication and self-help books to recover.
She said: "The books told me what I needed to know about why my brain wasn't working properly. They helped me to make sense of everything so I would certainly advocate their use."
Teacher Support Online is available on www.teachersupport.info. The Teacher Support Line is on 08000 562 561 l firstname.lastname@example.org
Books that can beat the blues, Leader 22
Cognitive therapy - teach awareness of how certain thought patterns can give a distorted picture of what is happening in life, creating feelings of anxiety, depression or anger, often needlessly.
Diet - omitting foods such as caffeine and sugars can improve mood and physical well-being.
Natural remedies - can help with obsessions and compulsions. The 38 Bach flower remedies, for example, are said to help balance how we think and what we feel. Each addresses a particular emotional state.
Relaxation techniques - short and long-term techniques, often based around breathing, to relieve stress and tension.
Librarians' suggested reading list
Mind over mood: Padesky Greenberger; Guilford Press, pound;16.95 Overcoming binge eating: Christopher Fairburn; Guilford Press, pound;13.50 Anorexia nervosa: a survival guide for families, friends sufferers: Janet Treasure, Psychology Press, pound;11.95 Overcoming depression: Paul Gilbert; Constable Robinson, pound;9.99 Living with fear and anxiety: Isaac Meyer Marks; McGraw-Hill Education, pound;14.99 Understanding obsessions and compulsions: Frank Tallis; Shildon Press, pound;7.99 Overcoming social anxiety shyness: Gillian Butler; Constable Robinson, pound;9.99 Getting better bit(e) by bit(e): survival kit for sufferers of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorders: Ulrike Schmidt, Janet Treasure, Tom Treasure; pound;12.95; Psychology Press