In this invited post – part two of a series of three – I summarise the global issues related to teachers’ well-being and present an analysis of the preliminary findings from a short, informal exploratory questionnaire from Save our Schools NZ about levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported by New Zealand teachers.
In my previous post, I highlighted the issues of stress and anxiety and some concern about the well-being of the New Zealand teachers. One of the most important support mechanisms provided by many schools is the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
EAP is a service supported by the New Zealand government to provide confidential counselling services and sources of information for staff from subscribing organisations. However, it is interesting to note that 77% of participants from this short exploratory survey did not know about the EAP, and some noted how even when present and known about, it was not effective as a source of support.
Most of us are aware how a certain level of ‘good’ stress is argued to be beneficial. But only when it is short-term and can be kept under control. The survey asked teachers what steps they usually took to reduce their levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Potential options included all the usual coping strategies promoted in popular self-help books, Apps, media and research.
87% of respondents said they “Try to carry on regardless”
Despite the high levels of stress and anxiety reported in these participants’ answers, the most common response (87%) was ‘Try to carry on regardless’. Other popular strategies were reported as ‘eating’, ‘exercising’ and ‘sleeping’ (42%, 40% & 44% respectively).
The responses from this short preliminary survey then are cause for concern: not only because so many teaching staff do not appear to have developed adequate coping strategies to deal with levels of stress and anxiety, but also because so many reported how they coped through ways that are likely to have an additional negative impact upon their health.
For instance, 23 of the 100 participants turned to alcohol for relief and 9 admitted to either smoking, self-medication or using drugs.
These preliminary results mirror not only the high rates of stress and anxiety evident in UK teachers, but also the coping strategies used in the UK, such as an over-reliance on alcohol.
When reporting how many days off taken as a result of stress, anxiety or depression over the past 12 months, the most common answer from participants was 0-3 days (81%). This may indicate the hidden nature of this problem in that staff are perhaps trying to ‘carry on regardless’ by coming into work when they could instead be focusing on their own health and well-being.
Asked how much time they had taken off work over the past 12 months as a direct result of the symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression:
When respondents were asked to rate their current school in terms of helpfulness towards supporting staff with stress, anxiety and depression, schools did not score highly, with only 14%described as ‘Very helpful’ and 5% described as ‘Very unhelpful’. This is of concern.
Is the long-term health of teachers in New Zealand is at risk? Perhaps it is when nearly half (47%) of these respondents reportedly had been medically diagnosed with stress, anxiety or depression and 55% had taken time off work as a result of these symptoms.
I would like to emphasise here again, the importance of just talking through our problems to a trained listener.
The questionnaire deliberately included appropriate links to helplines for those suffering from depression and needed support. A comprehensive list of information and helplines available can be found here.
~ Dr Ursula Edgington
In this invited Blog post – one of a series of three – I explore some of the global issues related to teachers’ well-being and present an analysis of the preliminary findings from a short, informal exploratory questionnaire from Save our Schools NZ about levels of stress, anxiety and depression reported by New Zealand teachers.
A recent report from a major UK teachers’ Union (NASUWT) illustrated the high levels of stress, anxiety and depression among the teaching profession.
Perhaps understandably, staff turnover is high, with many UK teachers leaving after the first year.
History shows the inevitability of audit cultures so prevalent in the UK and US influencing policy and practice in New Zealand, as indeed some already have in the form of National Standards and other initiatives . It’s the introduction of previously alien business models, including Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) within state provision services that creates challenges. So, do New Zealand teachers also suffer high levels of stress, anxiety and depression? And if their emotional health is being negatively impacted by their work, are the causes similar to those highlighted in the UK and elsewhere? To what extent does stress impact upon the individuals and the institution concerned and what could be learnt from the international research in this area?
In a very short survey, Save Our Schools NZ asked teachers: ‘In a typical week, how often do you feel stressed or anxious at work?’
Another question focused on some of the possible causes of this stress and anxiety. It presented a number of options based on the outcomes from other research data in this area and asked which of the terms best defined the main causes of the stress, anxiety and depression.
(The latter two causes were highlighted in the comments section as being as a result of teachers not feeling they had adequate support from their school for students with complex needs.)
Interestingly for me personally – because of my research interests – the lowest-ranking answer of all the choices provided was ‘Audit and inspection’ which often ranks very highly for teachers in the UK under pressure from accountability measures. In line with research by Prof Martin Thrupp, this potentially indicates a stark contrast between the negative impact of Ofsted on UK teachers’ lives and the more sensitive (if somewhat ambiguous) approach from New Zealand’s Education Review Office (ERO).
This question also had an ‘other’ comments box which revealed a series of other relevant issues: 10% commented that bullying – either from management or parents or both – was a major cause of their stress and anxiety. This links to commonly debated cultural issues of the New Zealand workplace, for instance the phenomenon of Tall Poppy Syndrome (something I’ve written briefly about elsewhere and will return to later.)
In conclusion, the outcomes from this initial survey indicates that stress is clearly having a significant, negative impact on New Zealand teachers, and perhaps warrants a closer and more in-depth investigation. For instance, how widespread is this problem and what are the lived experiences of New Zealand teachers?
– Dr Ursula Edgington