Teachers have important roles in the lives of the children they teach. That influence extends into the realm of mental health and well-being, according to research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Researchers found that teachers’ mental health and well-being was associated with the mental health and well-being of their students.
Sarah Harding, M.Sc., of Bristol Medical School in the United Kingdom, and colleagues collected data from more than 3,000 12- and 13-year-old students and more than 1,000 teachers in 25 secondary schools in England and Wales. They assessed student well-being and psychological distress. They measured teachers’ well-being, depressive symptoms and presenteeism (working while physically or psychologically ill or distressed).
The researchers also measured the quality of teacher-student relationships based on student ratings.
The researchers found that greater teacher well-being and better teacher-student relationships were associated with greater student well-being and lower student psychological distress. They also found that when teachers were absent or not well at work it was associated with more student distress and poorer student well-being.
Teacher depressive symptoms, however, were not associated with poorer student well-being or greater distress. Stronger teacher-student relationships appeared to limit the impact of teacher depressive symptoms on their students. The researchers also noted that student mental health and well-being could affect their teachers as well. “The relationships between teacher well-being, the quality of teacher-student relationships, teacher presenteeism, and student mental health outcomes are clearly complex and likely to be interrelated,” the authors wrote.
Harding and colleagues conclude that improving teacher well-being may lead to better student well-being and better relationship between the two groups.
Several earlier studies found distress and mental health challenges common among teachers. For example, a study of middle school teachers found high rates of moderate to severe depressive symptoms among school teachers; about 19% of the secondary teachers showed moderate levels of depression. Another study found that primary school teachers experience higher levels of psychological distress than comparable professionals. More than one in five teachers were experiencing clinically significant distress, and those high levels continued over more than two years.
The authors conclude there is an urgent need for access to help for teachers and that “effective support for teachers’ mental health is particularly important given the potential impact of poor teacher mental health on pupil well-being, pupil attainment and teacher-pupil relationships.”
Harding S., et al. Is teachers’ mental health and wellbeing associated with students’ mental health and wellbeing? Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019 Jan;242:180-187
Titheradge, D., et al. Psychological distress among primary school teachers: a comparison with clinical and population samples. Public Health 2019 Jan;166:53-56.
University of Exeter. Research News: Primary teachers had ‘higher psychological distress’ than other professional groups. Nov. 20, 2018.