More than 80% of S'pore teachers say Covid-19 pandemic has hurt their mental health: Survey

The lack of work-life balance and excessive workloads topped the common stress factors identified by teachers who were surveyed.
The lack of work-life balance and excessive workloads topped the common stress factors identified by teachers who were surveyed.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - More than 80 per cent of teachers said their mental health has been negatively impacted by their work amid the Covid-19 pandemic in a nationwide survey.

They cited long hours as one reason, with 80.6 per cent indicating they worked more than 45 hours a week.

This is above the average for the working population in Singapore, said the Singapore Counselling Centre (SCC), which conducted the study.

Results of the mental well-being survey of 1,325 teachers working in levels from pre-schools to junior colleges was released on Wednesday (Sept 22).

More than 62 per cent said their physical health had also declined, reporting ailments such as irritability, insomnia and recurring headaches.

Almost half, or about 43 per cent, said their personal relationships suffered and around 33 per cent fell sick easily.

SCC had sent the teachers the survey via e-mail or through social media from Aug 13 to Sept 3. The e-mail addresses were listed on their school websites.

When asked how they felt about their job, the top three emotions identified were negative.

About 56 per cent said they were overwhelmed, followed by around 39 per cent who said they were frustrated and 21 per cent indicating they were worried.

The lack of work-life balance and excessive workloads topped the common stress factors identified by those surveyed.

Teachers said they faced long working hours, with over 80 per cent putting in more than 45 hours a week. According to statistics from the Ministry of Manpower, full-time employed workers clocked in an average of 45.4 hours per week in 2020.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Ms Karen Soon, project lead of the study, said the culture of long working hours and an inability to switch off from work was strongly linked to the lack of work-life balance.

She added that primary, secondary and junior college teachers were more vocal about the issue of additional workload than pre-school and special education teachers.

A teacher juggles multiple duties, including academic teaching, classroom management, dealing with parents and event planning, said Ms Soon.

This has grown with the Covid-19 pandemic through additional responsibilities for teachers, such as enforcing safe management measures and classes for students who miss lessons due to quarantine orders.

A secondary school teacher, 27, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times that stress levels have risen because of the many unexpected scenarios caused by Covid-19.

He said: "For example, having to cover for colleagues or students who miss lessons, and you have to find ways for them to keep up with the pace.

"It's the uncertainty and the fluidity of the current situation that make it difficult, especially when you can't plan. Can you have extra lessons? Can you have remedial (classes)?"

A primary school teacher, 25, noted that courses or workshops on mental health training are not good enough, adding that administrative tasks also take up too much time.

"We should streamline and simplify the menial admin processes (like chasing students for documentation for approved absence) because they take up so much energy and take away energy for actual good teaching."

More than half of those surveyed said they also struggled to manage students' behaviour, exacerbated by insufficient support for special needs students and difficulties with parents.

Many attributed this to "overwhelming" class sizes.

Despite these problems, most teachers reported that they were able to identify at least one area of satisfaction in their job.

Although managing student behaviour was reported as a main struggle of the job, more than 81 per cent said positive interactions with students was an area of satisfaction.

While majority faced mental pressure, the survey found that few sought help.

Ms Soon noted that 10.2 per cent turned to supervisors while 8.2 per cent spoke to a mental health professional.

A lot of teachers have been advocating for structural changes such as reducing class sizes, she said, calling upon stakeholders to facilitate a more positive environment for teachers.

The most common forms of support suggested by teachers included reduced workload, higher income and undisturbed leave.

Said Ms Soon: "We hope that these recommendations will also help parents and students to know of the behavioural changes that they can make in their everyday (interactions) that would really support the teachers in becoming more mentally well".

  • Helplines

    • National Care Hotline:
    1800-202-6868 (8am - 12am)

    Mental well-being

    • Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:
    6389-2222 (24 hours)

    • Samaritans of Singapore:
    1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

    • Singapore Association for Mental Health:
    1800-283-7019

    • Silver Ribbon Singapore:
    6386-1928

    • Tinkle Friend:
    1800-274-4788 and www.tinklefriend.sg

    • Community Health Assessment Team:
    6493-6500/1 and www.chat.mentalhealth.sg

    Counselling

    • TOUCHline (Counselling):
    1800-377-2252

    • TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers):
    6804-6555

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre:
    1800-353-5800

    Online resources

    mindline.sg

    My Mental Health

    Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service