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29 January 2020

Medicine and teaching among most stressed professions

Chronic understaffing across the public sector is contributing to a mental health crisis, research finds. 

By Rohan Banerjee

Almost a third of doctors in the United Kingdom may be “burnt out”, and the proportion of teachers in England suffering from mental health problems has reached its highest rate since the 1990s, according to two recent studies.

Research by BMJ Open, which collated responses from 1,651 doctors, found that one in three considered themselves struggling to cope with the demands of their job, with many of them crediting increased feelings of stress or anxiety to chronic understaffing within the National Health Service.

Doctors working in emergency medicine were group most commonly affected by poor mental health. 

The authors of the study urged more “emotional resilience training” across the NHS to help doctors manage the pressures of their jobs better, but also pointed out the need for more investment in recruitment as a matter of urgency. The NHS is, they said, an “under-funded, overworked system.” 

Meanwhile, a study by the Nuffield Foundation, a think tank based at University College London, analysed data from over 20,000 teachers and education professionals in England at different stages between 1992 and 2018. 

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The research found that around 5 per cent of teachers consider themselves to have a long-lasting mental health problem caused by their jobs – up from just 1 per cent in the 1990s.

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The rate of education professionals using antidepressant medication (also 5 per cent) has increased from the 1 per cent recorded in the 2000s.

UCL’s Professor John Jerrim, the lead author of the report, commented: “The teaching profession in England is currently in the midst of a crisis and one potential reason why its struggling to recruit and retain enough teachers is due to the pressures of the job.”

He added: “It has long been known that teaching is a stressful and challenging career and we wanted to see if the mental health and wellbeing of teachers had improved or declined, especially in light of government promises to ease the burden upon the teaching profession.” 

Again, many of the respondents to the Nuffield Foundation study cited understaffing and increased workload as contributing factors to their poor mental health.

Last year, the government, through official Department for Education figures, confirmed that it had missed its teacher training targets in most secondary school subjects.

Less than half – 47 per cent – of the trainees required were recruited in physics, while only a quarter were hired for design and technology.