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13 June 2012updated 07 Jun 2021 4:28pm

University staff are suffering an “epidemic” of poor mental health

By Rohan Banerjee

The rate of staff at UK universities accessing counselling and occupational therapy services has increased significantly over a six-year period, representing an “epidemic”, according to a report commissioned by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

Through freedom of information requests gathered from 59 higher education institutions across the country, researchers found that the rate of referrals to counselling was, on average, up 77 per cent between 2009 and 2015.

However, some individual universities, such as the University of Warwick (316 per cent), the University of Kent (292 per cent) and Brunel University (172 per cent) were identified as experiencing even greater hikes in their staff’s use of counselling.

The report has been published around a year after the former Cardiff University lecturer Malcolm Anderson committed suicide, and whose wife had hinted that he had been suffering from the pressures placed on him by his job. 

Author of HEPI’s report, Liz Morrish, a visiting fellow in linguistics at York St John University, said many UK institutions are guilty of “structural causes of stress” which lead to “problems with workloads” and “administrative overload”.  

She also noted the rise in short-term and zero-hour contracts as being another source of stress for lecturers and wider university staff, because of the “lack of security” they offer to those employed on them.

Morrish explained in a statement: “As university fees have risen in England and Wales, the pressure to satisfy increasing student expectations has fallen on teaching staff. Managers have increased their demands on the academic workforce over concern about university rankings and league tables. At the same time, repeated research and teaching audits have created a culture of workplace surveillance.”

The acting general secretary at the University and College Union (UCU), Paul Cottrell, suggested that universities had to “think seriously about how they respond to the needs of staff seeking support”. He said: “A lack of job security and managers obsessed with league tables and rankings have blighted the sector for years, and this report lays bare the negative impact those working conditions have on the mental health of staff.”

UCU has recently launched an awareness campaign called “It’s your time” to improve the working culture of academia.

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