Burn-out of students: those risks to be considered


Much research has been carried out on stress in the workplace and its consequences on the health of workers. This concept is now widely integrated in the context of the prevention of psychosocial risks (PSR) at work.

Currently, the idea that, within the school framework, the pupils can also be subjected to this type of risks begins to be essential. Hélène Romano , psychologist and researcher in psychopathology proposed in 2016 to define them as
“Any source of stress in the school environment, likely to harm the student physically, psychologically, academically and having possible repercussions on his family and social life”.
In middle and high school, students are subjected to many stressors: pressure from parents and teachers, personal workload, uncertainty related to orientation, interpersonal conflicts (harassment for example). A 2015 study conducted in France showed that their stress tended to increase steadily, with 17.1% of students declaring themselves very stressed in sixth grade and up to 49.6% in Terminale.

However, in the professional environment, it has been shown that chronic stress can lead to a burn-out syndrome. This is characterized by the association between emotional and physical exhaustion, a cynical attitude towards one’s activity and a feeling of inadequacy (feeling of not being up to the task). This notion, already applied to students since the beginning of the 2000s , is now transposed to secondary school students, in particular by researchers in educational and health psychology, and work in this field has been increasing since the beginning of the decade. 2010s .

As in the professional environment, students’ burnout affects their motivation, their school perseverance (risk of dropping out) and their mental health. This is why researchers are trying to understand the risk factors and identify the consequences.

Psychological syndrome

When we talk about burnout, most people imagine an illness, characterized by exhaustion that would reach such a paroxysm that the affected person would one day find themselves, suddenly, physically unable to go to their place of work. . It is this way of conceiving burn-out that is mainly mobilized in the media.

But, depending on the approach we are referring to, burnout is in fact a psychological syndrome that is assessed on a continuum, rather than a disorder or a disease, even if it can sometimes lead to a disability. total to work. In this context, it is defined as a subjective relationship of the pupil to his school work associating:

  • exhaustion (emotional and physical fatigue, difficulty relaxing and recovering);
  • cynicism (negative and detached attitudes, loss of sense of schoolwork);
  • feeling of inadequacy as a pupil (devaluation of his work and his academic skills, feeling of failure).

Some students may have a high level of burnout while continuing to come to class. Scales for measuring school burnout allow students to be placed on a continuum without there being a defined threshold score from which a student in burnout is declared in a binary manner. Consequently, there is also no scientific consensus on how to assess the prevalence of school burnout.

Some researchers believe, however, that a “state of mind” characteristic of burnout, that is to say a high score in the three dimensions that constitute it, would be present in 7% to 21% of students depending on the country. Europeans.

Moreover, recent analyzes have been able to show that there is also a group of pupils who; while being exhausted, maintain a strong emotional commitment to their work . These students find meaning in their schoolwork and remain motivated but feel a constant strong pressure. Both highly engaged in their work and chronically stressed, they could represent a risk group as well, who may later disengage from their higher education or jobs.

A deterioration in the quality of life

School burnout in itself is an unpleasant state of tension that affects the quality of life. It can also have negative consequences on educational and professional careers and on mental health. At the same school level, students with a higher level of burnout have less academic ambition and are more at risk of dropping out of school, in particular high school students with high scores in cynicism and a feeling of inadequacy. .

In addition, like professional burnout, school burnout can have repercussions on the psychological functioning of adolescents as a whole. Teenagers with burnout have more anxiety and depressive symptoms and consume more toxic substances

We can distinguish three series of causes of school burn-out: causes linked to the work environment, those linked to interpersonal relationships and those linked to individual characteristics. Because burnout is mainly caused by personal workload and the pressure it puts on students, it tends to get worse during high school. In the same way, it is more important in general way of high school than in professional way.

Students are particularly sensitive to their relationships with teachers and these can be a factor in school burnout when they are of poor quality . Pressure from parents (demands for success, for example) or having complicated family relationships can also contribute.

Finally, certain personality traits could expose you to the risk of burnout, such as dysfunctional perfectionism (constantly doubting your actions, fear of making mistakes) or poor self-esteem . Finally, academic pressure can be particularly badly experienced by students who are the least motivated or those who have a bad image of themselves because they may not feel capable of meeting academic challenges (passing assessments, managing workload) they face.

Support programs to be developed

Also, the easiest way to avoid burn-out is undoubtedly to choose an educational path that corresponds both to the interests of the student but also to his academic skills and his ability to manage the workload. To prevent a student’s school burnout from increasing, meetings with psychologists from the National Education Department would be useful. However, there are too few of them ( often one for 1,500 secondary school pupils ) to be able to provide quality support to all the pupils who need it or who express a demand for it.

Some intervention programs have been created by psychology researchers for small groups of high school students affected by school burnout. They were able to show their effectiveness. These interventions generally aim to strengthen students’ resources, for example by working on their strengths and successes or on their motivation and strategies for coping with stress . However, these interventions are difficult to implement in establishments because of their cost since they require time and well-trained personnel. It is estimated that the optimal duration of intervention is at least eight sessions or more (45 to 90 minutes) to be able to expect a significant effect .

In addition, we know that the support that students perceive from their teachers is one of the most important protective factors against burnout. Also, some researchers support the idea that developing emotional intelligence (that is, the ability to process emotional information: understanding its causes and dealing with it) and the well-being of teachers themselves could be important. priority levers of prevention because this would strengthen their ability to support their students.

It is therefore essential to help teachers build positive relationships with the most difficult students. Apart from intervention programs specifically dedicated to reducing burnout, we could also imagine better training teachers in stress issues so that they can help their students, as part of methodological support, to react more. positively in chess, better organize oneself to manage the load of homework and revisions. This could take the form of continuing education programs, in particular on issues of school stress and the apprehension of “difficult” students, and through quality working conditions enabling them to offer sufficient supervision to the students.

Author Bios: Aline Vansoeterstede is a PhD candidate in health psychology applied to education, Boujut Emilie is a Lecturer in Health Psychology and Emilie Cappe is a University professor in clinical psychology and psychopathology all at the University of Paris