Secondary school teachers’ mental health: risk and protective factors, and the impact on teacher-student relationships

PhD project (3/4 yr research project leading to independent research at the doctorate level)

Judi Kidger, David Gunnell

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Teachers are consistently identified as being at elevated risk of psychological distress and mental disorder compared to the general working population. Explanations for this heightened risk of mental health problems have not been well researched, but may involve the changes that have occurred in the education system in recent years, possibly most significantly the move to become academies for many schools. Focusing on teachers’ mental health is not only an important public health goal in its own right, but it may also lead to more favourable outcomes for students. School staff have contact with more young people about mental health issues than any other public sector service and evidence shows that teacher-student relationships can have an important impact on student health and academic outcomes. However, teachers who are stressed or distressed may find it difficult to provide the necessary support to students.

Aims & objectives

1. Review teachers’ mental health compared to other occupations
2. Examine reasons for teachers’ heightened vulnerability to poor mental health, focusing particularly on i) school processes and structures ii) key periods in the academic year iii) any impact of changes brought about by academisation
3. To examine positive and negative aspects of teacher-student relationships, and identify how these impact on student mental health and attainment


1. Secondary analysis of national datasets on occupations and health (e.g. Health and Safety Excecutive and ONS) to examine school staff’s mental health relative to other occupations.
2. Qualitative case study work examining the sources of stress for school teachers, including questions around academisation, school structures and processes, and seasonality of mental distress. This would include focus groups and interviews with a range of staff, and observations of meetings, lessons etc.
3. Qualitative observation and interview work to identify the important positive and negative aspects of teacher-student relationships. This may lead to development of a questionnaire that measures quality of teacher-student relationships


Stansfeld SA et al.: Occupation and mental health in a national UK survey. Soc Psych and Psych Epi 2011;46:101-110.
Lang IA et al.: Influence of problematic child-teacher relationships on future psychiatric disorder: population survey with 3-year follow up. BJP 2013;202:336-341.

Created on Oct. 1, 2015, 9 a.m.

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