The number of teachers with poor mental health has reached shocking new levels and workload is to blame, a new poll suggests.
In the past two years, 84 per cent of the profession have had to deal with poor mental health, according to a survey of 2,000 teachers by the Education Support Partnership (ESP).
The charity says that the numbers of teachers who have had mental health problems have been rising for at least five years. And its latest research has found that the vast majority of staff attribute their mental health issues to an excessive workload.
But only a quarter of those teachers who admitted to dealing with mental health issues ever discussed it with their line manager.
ESP said the survey highlights the need for teachers, as well as pupils, to have access to counselling services in schools. Julian Stanley, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We’re now seeing the secretary of state [for education] talking about the rise in children’s mental health issues. Why aren’t staff’s mental health issues as important? Why can’t we provide more of a Rolls-Royce service from the start of their training?”
Last year, TES revealed that Teach First, the country’s largest provider of new teachers, had started organising psychological support for trainees because it was concerned that classroom pressures could trigger mental health problems.
The ESP research shows that 81 per cent of teachers who have had poor mental health blame their workload.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said that the findings were “shocking, but not surprising”. “In too many schools, teaching is a danger to your mental health, because of the absurd workload and stress that’s piled on teachers,” she said.
Sir Cary Cooper, a former government adviser on wellbeing, has said that, of the 80 he researched, teaching was among the three most stressful occupations.
The ESP survey finds that teachers deal with a range of symptoms of poor mental health. Sleeplessness was the most common, affecting 85 per cent of teachers. Significant numbers also experienced a lack of concentration, mood swings, and headaches.
Mr Stanley said that many teachers suffered from a debilitating loss of confidence, or found that their relationships – in and out of work – were deteriorating. “It’s a common thing we hear when we go into schools: ‘God, I’ve lost my confidence,’” he said.
“To stand in front of a room and deliver classes actually takes bags of confidence. If you’re a seasoned teacher and you’re struggling with that, you have to think: ‘What’s that about?’”
Laura, who used to be an English teacher (see box, “It utterly consumed me”, below left), experienced severe work-related anxiety three years ago but did not approach a line manager. “The constant fear was that you were a fraud, that you were going to be caught out,” she said. “I think that we’re all individually feeling it, but we don’t ever speak of it. I’d often see people crying in the toilet.
“But I couldn’t go to my head of department. I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t coping. I felt guilty; I felt like I was betraying the school.”
ESP said that her experience demonstrated why it is vital for teachers to have the same access to counselling services as pupils.
“For many, it’s about having time to reflect and think,” Mr Stanley said. “To talk things through without fear of being judged.”
However, Dr Bousted said: “Access to counsellors may be helpful, but it’s treating the symptom. We’ve got to deal with the root cause of the issue, which is excessive workload.”
The Department for Education said that it was working with teachers to tackle the causes of workload and trusted schools to support staff.
‘It utterly consumed me’
Laura, a former English teacher from Manchester who now works for an exam board, says that she would have benefited from counselling to help her cope with workload pressures.
“I was pushed to the absolute brink,” she says. “The sheer amount of work was overwhelming. It just utterly consumed me. It was relentless: you never got the sense that you’d achieved something and could move on to the next thing.
“It got to the point where I was paralysed. Making decisions became difficult. The job can be incredibly lonely.
“In the end, I went to see my professional mentor – every time I spoke to her, I got the sense that it was my life. I could leave teaching without being judged.”
How to find support
What can you do if you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed?
Remember that you are not alone: most teachers will feel the same way at some point in their career
Call the Education Support Partnership helpline on 0345 025 9793
Approach your professional mentor, if you have one
Ask your GP to put you on the waiting list for NHS counselling services
Consider paying for private counselling
Source: Education Support Partnership