School staff are hiding mental health issues

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A majority of school staff hide mental health issues from their employers, with many fearful of how their managers will react if they find out.

The findings of a study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), released at its annual conference in Manchester last week, have sparked a call for more to be done to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.

The research involved 925 ATL members and found that 55 per cent feel that their job has a negative impact on their mental health, with 38 per cent reporting a rise in mental health problems among colleagues in the past two years.

The study found that 68 per cent have hidden their own mental health problems from management, with almost half blaming this on their fear of the school’s reaction.

Respondents to the survey said that the most common factors affecting mental health were pressures to meet targets (63 per cent) and inspections (59 per cent), followed by pressure from leaders (55 per cent).

A motion at the conference, passed unanimously, instructed ATL to work to “challenge workplace cultures that hamper the disclosure of mental health and other hidden disabilities”.

Birmingham teacher Ash I Ghouse told delegates that his case work had involved members “on the verge of suicide” because of the pressure they are under. Meanwhile, teacher Rob Bissett, also from Birmingham, described how he suffered stress and panic attacks at a previous school but had received little support before he eventually left in 2008. Now working in another school, he said: “I still see colleagues reduced to tears because of their depression and other unseen disabilities. I know how crippling it was to me.”

The research found a belief among respondents that schools are not doing enough to look after their staff. One head of department told researchers: “The constant pressure, with unrealistic targets given at short notice, has had an adverse effect on my health. If you complain or discuss it, your job will be at risk.”

The motion also called on ATL to set up a mental health working group to “investigate the impact of performance management on those with mental health or hidden disability issues”.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: “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.”


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