Teachers being pushed to the brink – report

Teachers being pushed to the brink – report

Over half of Australian teachers suffer from anxiety and nearly one-fifth are depressed, according to the findings of a soon-to-be-published study assessing teachers’ well-being.

Bond University examined the health and well-being of 166 Australian teachers, aged 22-65, in the anonymous survey. Respondents revealed their work environment, workload and finances to be the most significant sources of stress.

Around 18% of respondents had symptoms that met the criteria for moderate to severe depression.

Nearly 62% met criteria for moderate to severe anxiety while nearly 20% (19.75%) had severe anxiety. And 56% met criteria for medium to high severity of somatic symptoms. This is when the symptoms are physical and can include pain, nausea, dizziness and fainting.

Alarmingly, 17% screened positive for having probable alcohol abuse or dependence.

Worryingly, these rates are higher than the national averages.

Around 10% of Australians experience depression over their lifetime, 13% experience anxiety, 5% are diagnosed with substance use disorders, and 7% are diagnosed with somatic symptom disorder.

Peta Stapleton, associate professor in Psychology at Bond University, said the findings are concerning for a number of reasons, including that teachers are required to foster the emotional well-being of students.

“The Australian Curriculum requires teachers to address students’ personal and social capabilities. This includes teaching students to recognise and identify their own emotions, teaching emotional awareness, and relationship exploration and understanding,” Associate Professor Stapleton wrote in The Conversation.

“But if a teacher’s mental health is affected, this may undermine their capacity to promote well-being in students.”

Associate Professor Stapleton said factors such as a lack of educational resources, difficulties with staff and parents, work overload, time pressure and behavioural challenges with students may contribute to a stressful teaching environment, and burnout.

“This could contribute to, or exacerbate, existing mental-health issues,” she said.

“Teachers may also be drinking as a form of stress relief. Other countries have reported alcohol use to be two to three times higher in teachers than in the general population.”

Associate Professor Stapleton said research on work-related stress suggests high levels of work effort must be matched with high levels of rewards.

“According to this model, an imbalance between effort and reward leads to increased emotional reactions and risk of mental-health problems,” she said.

“Rewards can be financial, the chance for regular professional development, job security, as well as praise, approval and esteem. Teachers could be experiencing mental distress and its associated health implications if the demands of their job seem to exceed the rewards.”

Associate Professor Stapleton said employees perform better when they have more control over their daily work schedules, flexibility and access to support when they need it.

“We might see improvements in teachers’ coping and performance abilities if they are offered well-being programs, whether that be as professional development, access to paid gym memberships, or childcare support,” she said.

“Attending to the mental health of teachers should be paramount. They are at the forefront of the education system and vital to supporting student success.”

Psychology student Sarah Garby was involved in the research paper discussed in this article.