New research has reported that half of Australian teachers are suffering from anxiety, and a significant number are depressed.
New research has reported that half of Australian teachers are suffering from anxiety, and a significant number are depressed. iStock

We need to cut stress for our teachers and children

MY MASTER's thesis back in the 1990s was focused on teacher stress and burnout. The stories I gathered were of caring teachers juggling a multitude of stressors, many of them organisational and outside of their control.

The emotional labour they described was significant. Fast forward 25 years and the majority of Australian teachers are beyond exhausted and they are burning out, with new research reporting that half Australian teachers are suffering from anxiety, and a significant number are depressed.

These rates are higher than the national averages for the general population and are extremely concerning given that we need well teachers to support our children, and given that a child's emotional wellbeing influences that child's success and relationships into adulthood.

Our government seems keen to blame the teaching profession for all of education's challenges. Perhaps it is no wonder a teacher shortage awaits us. I wonder what would happen if the government did all it could to support teachers and acknowledge the contribution they make.

And then we have reports about the wellbeing of our children, how our competitive and relentlessly academic school system focused on standardised tests, benchmarks and comparison are changing the experiences of even our youngest children.

It seems that for many children, their childhoods are no longer carefree. There is much for them to be overwhelmed by - an overcrowded curriculum, overscheduled lives, expectations to perform, little opportunity to play or create, social media and news-induced worry, to name just a few disturbing pressures.

We need to pause and consider that supporting the wellbeing of our teachers and children requires much more than telling them to do some mindfulness meditation or get a good night's sleep. The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth provides international comparisons and indicates that mental health is a growing issue for us with increasing numbers of young people suffering high or very high psychological distress, and suicide rates are continuing to increase among our youth.

Jacinda Ardern has taken wellbeing so seriously she is prioritising wellbeing over economic growth. Is it time to ask what our government is going to do to support the wellbeing of our people, our teachers, our youth, our children? Yes, I think it's time.