It is common for life style illnesses such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and depression to specifically increase in urbanised areas and in certain careers. Research has indicated that the teaching profession is one of these careers to be more susceptible than others.
People who helped with the study. At the back are Willem Burton (Roche), Chrissie Lessing and Ruan Kruger. In front are Judy Prinsloo, David Louw, Pauline Tsimane, Dineo Seroalo, Pappie Motlhasedi, prof. Leone Malan and Ursula Ndhlovu (Roche).
According to Prof. Leone Malan, from the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University’s Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART), several problems are responsible, which do not only lead to teachers leaving the system, but also life threatening diseases being diagnosed. She says worries such as increasing pressure, changes in the curricula, teacher-learner relationships, disciplinary problems, violence in schools as well as challenging stress management abilities regarding performance, are as plain as a pikestaff.
“The question arises as to whether our teachers can deal with this pressure.” She holds the opinion that teachers did, after all, choose this career because they are passionate about teaching and training children. “This passion can be smothered if the load and demands become too huge. Stress management is paralysed under these circumstances.”
Research at this University’s Potchefstroom Campus has indicated that a lack of effective stress management skills can have a gigantic impact on the teacher’s general health. “The teacher can therefore attempt to deal with the situation psychologically, but his body experiences a feeling of helplessness or surrender. The result can trigger the development of burn-out and life style illnesses.”
Malan says if effective support in the teaching system is not given, the question can arise as to whether teachers can really be expected to be happy, but also healthy in their profession.
Thus, what is the solution here? Malan is of the opinion that a problem can only be addressed if factual information is available on the psychological and physiological health of teachers. “This is why the HART (Hypertension in Africa Research Team) of the North-West University is currently doing a follow-up investigation. The first phase of this study was already completed approximately three years ago on more than 400 teachers in the Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp areas, of which the results are revealingly upsetting.
This project was honoured by the International Scientific Committee of the Metabolic Syndrome Institute (MSI) in France as one of the three best projects world wide. Researchers focused on the fight against the occurrence of the metabolic syndrome and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Findings of this study are, amongst others, the increased occurrence of disorders in heart rhythm, oxygen shortage in the heart muscle, high blood pressure or hypertension, oxidative stress, chronic stress, smoking and alcohol use. “In most cases these symptoms were strongly associated with a thickening of the wall of the main artery to the brain that poses a risk for stroke, renal dysfunction as well as enlargement of the left ventricle of the heart.”
She says it is very striking that an absence of effective stress management strategies occurs. “The teachers therefore attempt to manage the situation psychologically, but physically it is not the case and the above-mentioned symptoms are present as well as an experience of depression or burn-out, anxiety and insomnia. From this it can be inferred that teachers are under serious stress and that factors such as work load, learner’s bad conduct, limited time and resources and lack of acknowledgement makes a gigantic contribution to their stress levels. I urgently appeal that school counsellors be made available to the child, as well as the teacher for support.”
The aim of the follow-up study especially is to determine the degree of development of life style illnesses and organ damage and to then investigate drastic changes in life style and to address and develop it during several programmes.
The former president of the “Doctors without Boundaries” organisation, Prof. Morten Rostrup of Norway, has already demonstrated strong interest in this study and will visit the University’s Potchefstroom Campus on 8 February. “Without assistance from the industry and international co-workers, hope of success, however, is low. Rostrup is especially interested in the role of the sympathetic nerve system as the trigger in the development of cardiovascular-renal illnesses.” It is anticipated that he will also visit the HART group to discuss the planning of a funding project on hypertension in young Africans.
Meanwhile important supporting assistance was received from the International Pharmaceutics Company, ROCHE, for this study. They donated an automatic analyser to the value of R500 000 to the Faculty of Health Sciences which leads to data being processed more cost effectively and information be available to researchers much faster.