The number of days of absences linked to mental health issues taken by West Dunbartonshire school staff has been described as “extremely troubling” by a teacher’s union.

EIS blamed cuts to school budgets after new research found teachers, support staff and nursery employees in the local authority took 17,570 days - more than 48 years - off work since the beginning of the 2018/19 school year.

The worrying figures were obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, which showed there had been 2,907 years lost to mental ill health amongst Scottish education staff in just six years.

An EIS spokesperson said: “A rise in mental health-related illness amongst teachers is not a surprise, but it is extremely troubling.

“Cuts to school budgets have led to fewer staff in schools, dealing with large class sizes, increasing pupil aggression and violence, and a massive rise in the number of young people with additional support needs.

“Staff in schools need more support, and this can only come through increased investment in the education system by the government and the provision of additional qualified staff working in the classroom.”

The data for West Dunbartonshire showed the numbers have been highest in 2021/22 and 2022/23 since the Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, with 4,178 and 4,821 respectively.

Interestingly, the lowest number recorded in a year was 1,990 during the 2020/21 term.

Across Scotland, the number of staff days lost has risen from 172,690 days in 2018/19 to 271,427 days in 2022/23.  

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP warned of the “devastating toll” the mental health absences are having on the education of young people.

Mr Rennie said: “These alarming figures expose the devastating toll of mental health absences across our schools and nurseries.   

“From early years to exam years, the SNP have persisted in mismanaging Scotland’s education system. By offering next to no support for staff, they have caused learning environments to turn into pressure cookers, all while the attainment gap remains as wide as ever. 

“It’s time to stop asking our education staff to perform miracles and finally give them the support and resources they need to deliver the very best for children.   

“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats would invest in education. As well as giving teachers and staff the resources and support that they need, we would enhance pupil equity funding and ensure teachers are given proper stable contracts." 

The Scottish Government defended its investment in education and explained pupil teacher levels are at a record high.

A Holyrood spokesperson said: "It is vital that staff at our schools are able to access the right support they need when carrying out their important duties.

"The Scottish Government has allocated over £2 million to specifically support the wellbeing of the education workforce since October 2020. An additional £200,000 this year will also provide wellbeing coaching for staff working in both schools and early learning and childcare.

"Pupil teacher ratios across the country are at near record levels and we are providing local authorities with £145.5 million in this year's budget to protect teacher numbers.

"The Scottish Government is also working with local authorities to bring forward a National Action Plan on relationships and behaviour. This will set out the range of actions needed to tackle the issue at both local and national level."

West Dunbartonshire bosses say they invest in staff wellbeing and work closely with their workforce to support anybody who is struggling.

They said: “The Council is committed to the health and well-being of all employees and as part of our Employee Wellbeing Strategy, initiatives and supports are continuously developed to assist employees to maintain good mental health. 

“This includes an extensive training programme focusing on raising awareness and how to support colleagues who may be experiencing difficulties.

“In addition, employees can access a confidential 24/7 helpline for immediate support, face-to-face counselling and one-to-one coaching which is open to employees and their families.”