Education & Family

Teachers report rise in mental health fears

Teacher in class Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said education professionals did more unpaid overtime than any other group

More than a third - 38% - of school and college staff have seen a rise in mental health issues among colleagues in the past two years, a poll for a teachers' union suggests.

And 55% said their job had a negative impact on their mental health.

The government says it trusts heads to address any health issues with staff.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) last month polled 925 education staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Disturbed sleep

Of those who said they believed their job has had a negative impact on their mental health, 80% said they were stressed.

Some 70% said they were left feeling exhausted by their work and 66% said it disturbed their sleep.

The ATL is concerned that a stigma attached to mental health issues means many people are afraid to tell their employers if they have such problems.

The poll found 68% of those dealing with a mental health problem had decided to keep it a secret from bosses, compared with 38% of those who kept a physical health issue to themselves.

The ATL debated the topic at its annual conference in Manchester on Monday.

In a range of passionate speeches, delegates spoke of talking colleagues out of suicide, having panic attacks on the way to work, crying in a friend's classroom and being told to "get over it" by management.

Tamsin Honeybourne, a union representative in Surrey, said she typically had three members a year about whom she was "seriously worried".

"It's under-recognised. The problem is huge. In 80% of cases, there are mental health issues around being in a high pressured profession, being on the public stage."

Rod Bissett from Birmingham, who himself suffered a period of mental health problems, said: "I've seen colleagues reduced to tears because of their depression and other mental health problems."

A resolution calling on the union to establish a dedicated working group to investigate the issue was passed.

Union members want to look specifically at the impact of performance management systems on those with mental health problems or hidden disabilities

'Intense pressure'

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said she was shocked by the survey findings.

"Education professionals do more unpaid overtime than any other group and are put under constant intense pressure to meet targets, with excessive observation, changes in the curriculum and Ofsted inspections.

"Those working in education need to be supported better, with schools and colleges making adjustments to their jobs and working conditions where necessary.

"ATL calls for more to be done to ease the stigma surrounding mental health problems."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said statistics showed that teaching had never been "more attractive, more popular or more rewarding".

"We trust the professionalism of our head teachers to work with their staff to ensure they receive the support they need and to see that any issues are addressed," she added.

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