Lecturers register record stress levels

January 5, 1996

Anxiety and depression affect further education lecturers more than they affect the police, vicars and nurses, psychologists have claimed, writes Aisling Irwin.

A study of a further education college found that 43 per cent of lecturers were suffering from clinical anxiety or borderline clinical anxiety. Ben Fletcher, one of the authors, who has studied occupational groups for 15 years, says that the results are "higher than I've seen in any other group, including social workers and even gay vicars".

Anxiety and depression are affecting the lecturers' performance, such as their decision-making abilities and their ability to focus their attention, the study found.

The psychologists from the University of Hertfordshire monitored factors such as work levels and relationships with management. They matched these factors with cognitive tests and with measures of anxiety and depression.

The results, presented today at the Occupational Psychology Conference of the British Psychological Society, showed that two factors were linked with cognitive problems such as bad decision-making ability: a perception of not being consulted by management about what was going on in the college; and an individual's belief that he or she was not doing a proper job.

Brian Stead, research fellow at the university, and principal author of the paper, said that the lecturers are "sitting on a cliff waiting to be pushed over". He said that sufferers from anxiety and depression can also develop problems with their working memory. Factors such as this are "what employers need to think about because lecturers are probably not earning their money because of attentional misfocus".

Professor Fletcher, now dean of the business management school, said that a healthy working population would register 10 per cent rather than 43 per cent suffering from such anxiety.

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