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Mental Health First Aid BANNER

Teaching is in the grip of a mental health emergency, with teachers turning to antidepressants, alcohol and even self-harm to cope with the pressures of their job.

Teachers at the Annual Conference of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union in Harrogate will today warn that the incidence of suicidal thoughts and attempts to end their own lives are growing among the profession and call for suicide prevention training to be introduced for all school leaders, along with mandatory, fully funded mental health training for all staff in school and colleges.

Furthermore, while suicides are one of the biggest causes of work-related deaths each year, they are not included in the Health and Safety Executive’s annual reporting or its inspection and protection regimes. The NASUWT believes this exemption must be removed to help address the factors behind work-related suicides.

The NASUWT’s wellbeing at work survey, which received nearly 12,000 responses from teachers, found that 87% say they have lost sleep due to work-related worries, 85% report feelings of anxiousness and 84% report low energy levels.

One in ten teachers report that work-related stress has led to a relationship breakdown. Nearly a quarter (23%) report drinking more alcohol and 12% report the use of or increased use of antidepressants.

3% say they have self-harmed as a result of their work.

Nearly one in five (19%) said they had taken medication as a result of work-related stress and/or seen a doctor. More than one in ten (13%) said they had sought counselling.

This is against a backdrop where 84% said they had experienced more work-related stress in the previous 12 months and 86% believed that their job had adversely affected their mental health and 68% their physical health in the previous 12 months.

The most recent data from the HSE shows that among women, primary and nursery teachers had the fifth biggest mortality rate from suicide of all occupational groups. For men, ONS figures show that the numbers of male teacher suicides are 54% higher than female teachers, despite only making up around 25% of the teaching population. This reflects the fact that the ONS estimates that around four times as many men take their own life than women.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“Nobody should be brought to the brink of ending their own life because of their job.

“We need a two-pronged approach to addressing the epidemic of mental ill health among the teaching profession, which both tackles the factors driving work-related stress, while also putting in place greater support systems for teachers and school leaders.

“Our survey underlined that the three biggest drivers of work-related stress are workload, pupil behaviour and poor management. We have repeatedly set out to Government tangible measures which could help to improve teachers’ experiences of all three, but in a climate where the prevailing ideology has been of cuts, austerity and encouraging an autonomous command and control culture in schools, it is hardly surprising that the picture on teacher wellbeing has got worse.

“Only 6% of teachers in our survey said their school or college has measures in place to monitor and manage stress and burnout amongst staff. And just 17% said their school or college has a counsellor who is available to both staff and pupils. It is clear we also need better welfare support in our schools and colleges to help teachers’ manage their mental health and deal with what is an incredibly demanding job.

“The status quo is not an option. Too many teachers are having their health destroyed and others are leaving the profession in a bid to save their sanity. There is no intrinsic reason why teaching should have such high levels of burnout. Things can and should be different and we need the next government to work with us to restore teaching to a profession where teachers can thrive, not just struggle to survive.” 


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