Reports that ‘most teachers’ are suffering from depression are based on a self-selecting survey

12 May 2022
What was claimed

Most teachers are suffering from depression.

Our verdict

This comes from the responses of teachers who chose to complete their union's wellbeing survey and so may not be representative.

Most teachers suffering from depression

A Press Association article published by the Independent, the Evening Standard, the National and many local newspapers has reported details of a survey on depression in teachers that may not be representative. The findings were also reported by Tes and the print edition of the Star.

The data was collected by the teaching union NASUWT, which emailed an invitation to the survey to its membership of roughly 300,000 people, around 12,000 of whom then completed it.

This means that the survey can only tell us about the people who chose to participate, who might not be representative of teachers as a whole.

Evidence from more representative surveys suggests that teachers do have worse mental health than people in other jobs, although their scores may not be as low as the NASUWT survey suggests. 

What does the survey tell us?

The data in these reports comes from the NASUWT Teacher Wellbeing Survey, which was emailed to all NASUWT’s members from mid-December 2021 to early January 2022.

The survey included some questions about respondents’ mental health, which can be used to calculate a score to indicate levels of wellbeing on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS).

According to Warwick Medical School’s definitions of the WEMWBS scoring system, “a score of 41-44 is indicative of possible/ mild depression” and “a score of <41 is indicative of probable clinical depression”.

NASUWT says of its survey: “The analysis found an average Wellbeing Score amongst teachers of 38.7.” NASUWT also told Full Fact that the median score was 38, meaning most respondents would have had a score which was indicative of probable clinical depression.

However, this data may not be representative of teachers generally.

NASUWT confirmed to Full Fact that the 11,857 participants in its survey self-selected—meaning they were the members who chose to take part. This was not mentioned in the media reports of the survey.

This means the results may suffer from self-selection bias.

Teachers who actively chose to take part in a survey about wellbeing may have levels of wellbeing that aren’t representative of teachers in general. It is also possible that NASUWT members are not representative of teachers in the UK generally. NASUWT says it has 300,000 members, while there are over 600,000 teachers across the UK.

NASUWT explained that the responses were weighted by age, school phase and gender, to make the sample more closely reflect the teaching profession at large.

This may have helped make the data more representative of teachers than it otherwise would have been, but doesn’t address the problem that this was a self-selecting survey of union members, not a representative survey of teachers as a whole.

What else do we know about depression?

A survey of education staff using a method more likely to make it representative was conducted by YouGov for the charity Education Support in the summer of 2021. It found that school teachers had an average WEMWBS score of 43.7, down from 45.5 in 2020.

This score is significantly higher than the NASUWT data, but an individual score of 43.7 would still be “indicative of possible/mild depression”.

The NHS has conducted representative wellbeing surveys in England using the WEMWBS scale. The most recent survey report that we can find, from 2016, reported a median score of 51.0—meaning that half the adult population were estimated to be above this level, and half below. The mean average score was 49.9.

There is some other evidence that teachers have worse mental health than people in other jobs. Representative data from the Labour Force Survey suggested that “teaching and other educational professionals” in Great Britain were among those with statistically higher rates of  “work-related stress, depression or anxiety” when averaging data from 2018/19 to 2020/21.

Image courtesy of MChe Lee on Unsplash

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After we published this fact check, we contacted Press Association, Tes magazine and the Daily Star to request corrections regarding this claim.

They are yet to respond.

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