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Higher mental health risk for rural LGBT+ teachers

Published: 13 June 2018 at 10:30

School sign

Research shows those working in isolated areas are much more likely to suffer

LGBT+ teachers working in rural areas are far more likely to suffer mental health problems than those based in urban schools, according to new research by Anglia Ruskin University.

An anonymous online survey revealed that more than half of LGBT+ teachers in village schools have accessed help for depression and anxiety linked to their sexual identity and role as a teacher, compared to 11% in cities and 14% in towns. 46% of LGBT+ teachers in rural areas have been absent from work as a result, compared with only 5% of teachers in towns and cities.

More than 40% of teachers identifying as LGBT+ in village schools think that their sexual or gender identity has been a barrier to promotion, compared to 15% in urban or suburban schools.

Almost a third of teachers in rural schools cited homophobia or heteronormativity as the reason for leaving a role, compared to 17% of urban teachers. A similar percentage of teachers in rural schools (31%) reported hearing homophobic language every day.

The survey, consisting of responses from more than 100 teachers, also revealed concerns about how headteachers support their LGBT+ teachers, either through not challenging abuse, advising teachers against revealing their sexuality, or through not promoting LGBT+ teachers to positions of leadership.

Dr Catherine Lee, Head of the Department for Education and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin, carried out the research. She said: 

“It is clear that teachers identifying as LGBT+ in rural areas find their professional lives much tougher than those based in cities. The number who have been absent from work or sought help for anxiety or depression is extremely worrying.

“What causes these stark differences is unclear but I would urge policy makers to take heed of this research and take action to protect teachers in village schools where perhaps attitudes to LGBT+ people are more conservative, and where they may lack adequate support through services and peer networks.”

The research was presented at the inaugural LGBT Ed conference in London earlier this month.