Half of UK academic staff who responded to a survey said they suffered from high levels of anxiety, one and a half times the national average, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fifty percent of the 1,182 academics and professionals surveyed by researchers at Durham University in February and March this year reported high levels of anxiety, compared to a national figure of 32% reported by the Office for National Statistics for the same period.
One in three university staff (33%) reported a low level of happiness, compared to one in seven (14%) of ONS respondents. Low life satisfaction was reported three times more frequently by academic staff than by the general population – 36 percent versus 12 percent.
Writing in a pre-post posted to the PsyArXiv server, researchers Isla Dougall, Mario Weick, and Milica Vasilejevic say their findings suggest “that a significant number of staff have struggled during the pandemic and are suffering from chronic stress and illness. exhaustion”.
However, the responses also highlighted inequalities within academia. A majority of those surveyed on fixed-term or fixed-term contracts – 53 percent – reported poor mental health, compared with 45 percent of those on open-ended contracts. Almost two-thirds of ethnic minority respondents – 62% – reported poor mental health, compared with 45% of white respondents.
The additional pressures facing parents and other caregivers – and the disproportionate burden borne by women – have been constant themes throughout the pandemic and are again evident in the Durham survey.
Analysis of responses suggested that 68 percent of women with family responsibilities suffered from chronic emotional exhaustion, compared to 54 percent of those without. Among men, 51% of caregivers experienced chronic emotional exhaustion, compared to 38% of non-caregivers.
Other factors also affected respondents’ responses. Emotional burnout was significantly higher among those in research and teaching positions (62%) compared to those in professional services (49%). Chronic stress was highest among those who occupied only research roles.
The average number of hours worked per week was a significant problem, with the majority of people working more than 50 hours per week reporting poor mental health. In addition, more than a third of respondents (36%) did not feel competent at work, and staff who felt competent had better mental health than others.
The researchers write that their article “suggests that as academic communities we need to redouble our efforts to create an inclusive environment for all.”
Dr Weick, associate professor of quantitative social sciences at Durham, said Times Higher Education that universities should make mental health a strategic priority “as soon as possible, as we risk facing another year of disruption caused by Covid.”