The Korea Herald


S. Korean teachers at high risk of mental health issues, survey finds

By Moon Ki Hoon

Published : Sept. 5, 2023 - 17:44

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A tribute site for the deceased teacher at the Seoi elementary school in Seoul, July 21 (newsis) A tribute site for the deceased teacher at the Seoi elementary school in Seoul, July 21 (newsis)

Nearly 4 in 10 teachers in South Korea are at high risk of depression, a recent survey by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) showed. The survey also showed that 1 in 6 experience suicidal thoughts, highlighting serious concerns about mental health among educators in the wake of recent suicides in the teaching community.

Conducted jointly with Green Hospital in Seoul, the online survey ran Aug. 16-23 and involved 3,505 teaching staff across different grade levels. The survey incorporated the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), a widely recognized measure for potential clinical depression risk. The results showed that 24.9 percent of respondents reported "probable" depressive symptoms, while 38.3 percent indicated "definite" symptoms. Female educators reported higher symptoms at 40.1 percent compared to 28.9 percent of their male counterparts.

These figures are significantly higher than the nationwide sample of adults, where only 8-10 percent reported definite depressive symptoms, said Dr. Yoon Kan-woo of Green Hospital, who presented the findings in a press conference Tuesday.

Adding to these concerning figures, 16 percent of teachers reported contemplating suicide in the past -- a rate two to five times higher than the general populace. Of those surveyed, 4.5 percent admitted to making specific suicide plans.

The survey also revealed a direct correlation between mental health issues and instances of abuse from students and parents. Of those who experienced verbal abuse, 63.1 percent reported that it came from parents, while 54.9 percent reported it came from students, when multiple answers were allowed. Of the respondents who experienced physical abuse, 96.5 percent identified students as perpetrators.

"These results show that South Korean teachers are experiencing severe burnout. This is a structural problem that the government must address," the KTU stated in a press release.

Repeated instances ranging from harassment to abuse by parents and unruly students have led to large-scale protests from teachers all across the country. Thousands of teachers gathered in Seoul on Monday to hold a mass rally and have threatened to take leaves of absence in protest, prompting school board officials and the government to promise legal steps to better protect teachers from mistreatment.