Project reveals new way to combat stress and anxiety in teachers

Schools and academies across the length and breadth of the country are full of staff battling stress and anxiety, leading one Trust to explore an innovative solution to the problem. 

Leigh Academies Trust in Dartford decided to look at ways to combat stress in school staff by using Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) with the use of an Alpha-Stim Device.

The Alpha-Stim is a portable cranial electrotherapy stimulation device that transmits tiny imperceptible microcurrents via ear-clips. It works by stimulating nerve cells in the brain stem, activating the pathways that generate increased levels of serotonin and endorphins. Its positive effects are also cumulative, suggesting that the Alpha-Stim may bring about a permanent positive change in our neurological make-up. The Alpha-Stim also encourages the production of alpha waves in the brain, which is a calming, soothing wave. Image removed.

The study was set up by deputy chief executive Neil Willis, HR director Richard Taylor, and educational psychologist Jo Buttle, who examined ways to improve staff well-being through the use of this device. 

The project involved using the Alpha-Stim portable electronic device to see if it reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties among staff.

A total of 21 staff members used the device daily for between 20 and 60 minutes, over a four-week period. A number of pre and post measurements were taken to monitor changes in anxiety, depression, sleep and general welfare. Staff at the University of Greenwich kindly carried out the statistical analysis of the results. 

Richard Taylor, HR Director of Leigh Academies Trust said: "As a Trust, we recognise that at times the challenges that teachers face in both school and home can lead to the onset of mental health problems.  Leigh Academies Trust believes that teacher wellbeing is one of the most important issues currently in education and, as a result, we have been exploring ways to help teachers maintain positive mental health.  

"In addition to mindfulness sessions and examining the workload challenge we have been trialling the use of cranial electrotherapy stimulation to help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as help with sleep disorders.  As part of the trial we administered, in partnership with our educational psychologists, several controlled trials to see if the impact would justify a wider rollout.

"The results from these trials were extremely encouraging and we saw a positive impact on the quality of life scores for nearly all those using the device. In light of the results, we are now rolling the scheme out so that it is available to all staff in the Trust. Whilst this is not the sole solution to improve teacher wellbeing it is a fantastic tool to help staff maintain positive mental health."  

Jo Buttle, educational psychologist added: “It has been great to work with the Trust in supporting staff well-being. The Trust’s dynamic and forward thinking approach enabled us to adopt a creative strategy in helping reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties amongst staff. The results are excellent and suggest this is something schools and academies should consider as part of their staff support strategy.” 

To determine whether the system was having a positive influence, the staff completed four scales: 

  • The Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire-Short Form (Q-LES-Q-SF); Bourion-Bédès et al., 2015
  • The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI); Buysse, 1989
  • Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI); Beck et al., 1961
  • Beck's Anxiety Inventory (BAI); Beck & Steer, 1993

Using Q-LES-Q-SF scores, where higher scores on the scale indicate greater satisfaction, the mean scores improved from 3.3 to 3.7; a statistically significant difference in the positive direction. 

Using PSQI scores, where higher scores indicate worse sleep quality, following the treatment, mean scores had decreased from 1.28 to 0.76. This difference was statistically significant in the positive direction, which means that participants had better post-treatment sleep quality. 

Scores on the BDI tended to also display a better quality of life in terms of improved sleeping patterns and improved appetite. 

There are four sub-scales on the BAI scale. In terms of neurophysiological symptoms, mean scores of 0.43 pre-treatment and 0.34 post-treatment were not significantly different; however, subjective feelings of anxiety significantly changed between pre-treatment, 1.05, and post-treatment, 0.55. In addition, panic feelings significantly reduced from a pre-treatment mean of 0.46, to post-treatment mean of 0.25, whilst autonomic symptoms significantly reduced from a mean pre-treatment score of 0.94, to 0.52 post-treatment. 

The Alpha-Stim has numerous clinical studies behind it and after a 120 patient NHS trial that started in September last year is now being used by IAPT services to help treat patients with anxiety disorders. It retails for £549 or is available on a buy-to-rent scheme from £51 a month. For more information please visit www.alpha-stim.co.uk or call 01487 208041.

Schools and academies interested in running a trial or wishing to find out more about supporting staff using the Alpha-Stim please visit www.iepskent.co.uk or call 01732 770031

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