- nearly half of the respondents (47%) have visited a doctor in the last 12 months as a result of work-related physical or mental health problems;
- 10% have been prescribed anti-depressants;
- 14% have undergone counselling;
- 5% have visited hospital
- and a staggering 2% say they have self-harmed.
Increases in the use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco have all been reported as strategies to help cope with the burdening stresses of increased pressure and workload.
These are statistics we have come to associate with employees in high-stress work environments such as the police force, hospitals and armed forces in combat, however, we still hold onto the idea of schools as being community-based, friendly and safe. So when did the profession suddenly turn into an environment of such ferocious stresses and pressures?
As teachers, we may not be surprised by these statistics, as many of us may have experienced one or more of the above conditions. The effects of curriculums asking more and more academically of students, with an increase in standardized tests running out in Western education models, naturally increases the workload, not to mention the pressures on teachers too.
Yes, increased workload is a real factor and absolutely not to be underestimated, but let’s not forget, teachers are extremely capable and very good at high outputs and productivity. So what else could be underlying the stress, resulting in such shocking health and well-being statistics?
However, current education models consist of increasing tests, data collection, ranking, comparison and competition. As a result, alongside the statistics quoted on health and well-being of teachers, there is similar evidence supporting the same health trends to be occurring with students. According to Youth Beyond Blue, one in four Australians is experiencing a mental health issue and half of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders start by the age of 14 years.
According to the UK charity YoungMinds one in 10 will develop an eating disorder before their 25th birthday. Hospitalisations from self-harm and eating disorders have doubled in the past three years, and in some parts of the country rates of childhood depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are up by 600%. The average onset age for depression was 45 in the 1960s. Today it is 14. These stats don’t paint a great picture for students either. And where will society be when these students are 45?
What this effectively demonstrates is, a teacher, who is generally impulsed to embark on a career in education from a deep care to make a difference to a young person’s life and share wisdom is being asked instead to be party to delivering a way of educating which is proving to contribute to severe mental and physical health and well-being issues for many students. Instead of supporting young people to connect to their potential to contribute positively to communities, teachers are involved in promoting students to compete, feel stressed, pressured and believe competition is healthy, which ultimately leads to jealousy, separation and intense competition.
Whether you have been in the industry for 40, 20 or 3 years, common to many teachers is this challenge to balance the purpose, which brought many to the role, and the reality of what the job asks them to do. In effect, a teacher can ultimately feel they are complicit with child abuse.
Is there an answer to this dilemma? There are no immediate ‘go-to’ solutions. Protesting and ranting to change a system has historically had little effect, partly because it exacerbates divisiveness and partly because it adds to the sense of overwhelm that comes with taking on such a seemingly huge battle. Then feelings of giving up and ‘what is the point’ add to the tension already being experienced.
The greatest support that we can immediately offer ourselves is to simply be aware of what has been raised here. A willingness to be aware and honest about what is really going on means we can stop trying to keep up the pretence that all is well, come out from behind the smokescreen, start real conversations and work together to support and inspire change. In doing so, we will start to more fully appreciate the extraordinary work that teachers are doing daily all around the world.