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More teachers reporting mental health problems than ever

28 January 2020

One in 20 teachers in England are reporting a long-lasting mental health problem and their wellbeing has not improved over the past three decades, according to a new study by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

Teacher speaking to pupil in class

The working paper, published today and funded by the Nuffield Foundation is the first piece of research to examine the mental health and wellbeing of teachers in England over time. Researchers analysed data from over 20,000 teachers and education professionals collected at different waves between 1992 and 2018 from three large population based surveys.

Lead author, Professor John Jerrim, said: “The teaching profession in England is currently in the midst of a crisis and one potential reason why it’s struggling to recruit and retain enough teachers is due to the pressures of the job. 

“It has long been known that teaching is a stressful and challenging career and we wanted to see if the mental health and wellbeing of teachers had improved or declined, especially in light of government promises to ease the burden upon the teaching profession.” 

The findings show that around five per cent of teachers in England now say that they suffer from a long-lasting mental health problem which has lasted (or is likely to last) for more than 12 months, up from just one per cent in the 1990s. There has also been an increase in the percentage of education professionals who have been prescribed antidepressant medication, from around one per cent in the early 2000s to around five per cent today. 

The study finds, however, that this increase in reported mental health problems is not specific to education, and can also be observed for other professionals. For instance, nurses, accountants and human resource (HR) workers are also now much more likely to report suffering from a long-lasting mental health problem than in the 1990s. 

Although the researchers saw an increase in mental health issues being reported and treated amongst teachers, they say this could be due to teachers – like many other professional workers – being more willing to talk about such issues and to seek help. 

This was consistent with the team’s finding that there has not been any increase or decrease in unhappiness, anxiety or feelings of low-self-worth amongst teachers over the last decade. 

Professor Jerrim added: “The results from our study may therefore not be as worrying as they first seem, if it means more teachers who are struggling with their mental health are now getting help. However, more needs to done to monitor and improve the mental health and wellbeing of the teaching profession – similar to the commitment that has been made to track teachers’ workloads over time.”

Sinéad Mc Brearty, CEO at Education Support, the UK’s mental health and wellbeing charity for education staff, said: “The sharp rise in teachers reporting long-term mental health conditions mirrors the increase in the severity of cases that we support through our counselling helpline. Teachers are presenting with ever more severe mental health symptoms.

“Education Support’s 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index confirmed that work-related anxiety and depression are at high levels in education - higher than the general workforce. We welcome this longitudinal analysis: it enriches our collective understanding of the complex interaction between work-related stress and mental health.” 

Josh Hillman, Director of Education at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “In one sense, these findings are reassuring in that the levels of life-satisfaction, happiness and anxiety amongst teachers has remained broadly stable over the last twenty years.

“However, we also know that the pressures of workload, working hours and job satisfaction are contributing to a crisis in teacher retention, and those pressures still need to be addressed if we want to keep good teachers in our schools.”

Researchers based their analysis upon three data sources: The Labour Force Survey, the Annual Population Survey and the Health Survey for England. Together, these allowed the researchers to investigate how several different measures of teachers’ mental health and wellbeing have changed over the last two decades. This includes standardised measures of depression and anxiety, prescription of antidepressants and self-reported long-lasting mental health problems. They were also able to compare trends in these measures for teachers to other professional groups.

Media contact

Rowan Walker, UCL Media Relations
T: +44 (0)20 3108 8515 / +44 (0)7769 141 006
E: rowan.walker@ucl.ac.uk

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