Credit: Hugo Cheung

Staff mental health crisis at Scottish universities

By Charlotte Christian

Data shows a 40% increase in Scottish university staff absence due to poor mental health in the past 4 years.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservative Party via Freedom of Information requests (FOI), reveal an alarming increase in staff absence rates as a result of poor mental wellbeing and stress between 2018-2022.

Over the 4-year period, over 6,700 staff members have missed work due to mental health struggles in the 16 universities surveyed. This figure is likely a considerable underestimate given the lack of response from both the University of Glasgow and University of Strathclyde to the FOI requests.

Mary Senior, Scotland official of the UCU has described the findings as “utterly damning”. It serves to emphasise the crippling effects the UKs academic performance culture is having on staff, and further supports the UCUs assertion that strikes are necessary to combat members’ poor working environments. Ms Senior states, “we know that our members’ mental health is suffering due to their working conditions: UCU is currently in dispute with university employers over unmanageable workloads, job insecurity, along with pay and pensions cuts”. Ms Senior continues, “university staff having to work an average two additional days each week is simply unsustainable.”

The Scottish Conservatives said that the “figures were extremely worrying”, arguing that under SNP leadership, university staff have been “pushed to the limit”. This is supported by research conducted by the charity Education Support in 2021, which revealed that over half of UK university staff were showing probable signs of depression. One study found evidence of increased job insecurity, longer working hours, and an undermining of academic freedom in the higher education sector- all exacerbating workplace stress.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic heightening mental health struggles, the past year of relative normality has still seen approximately 1,500 Scottish university staff sign off work due to stress and poor mental wellbeing. MSP of Higher Education, Jamie Hepburn, acknowledged that the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has had a “significant impact on mental health” but said the Scottish government has worked to “promote mentally healthy workplaces.”

The mental health crisis in higher education is not going away. Just last October, a study revealed that the number of students seeking help with mental health at university had tripled in 10 years. Figures on mental-health related staff absences further demonstrate mental health struggles as epidemic amongst UK universities.


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