Teacher mental health is just as important as student mental health, as the quality of education depends on teachers' wellbeing. People perform best when they feel good, meaning that valuing teacher mental health over productivity is key to a successful teacher-student relationship as well as improved learning outcomes.
Teacher mental health has always been a concern, but with heightened demands and a stark lack of resources there is a mental health crisis amongst teachers. Due to the pandemic, teaching has become the most stressful profession, putting school mental health as a top concern. According to a teacher mental health facts survey from June 2021, “teachers were almost three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than other adults.” Teachers have reached a breaking point, which is exacerbated by low pay and pressures from the pandemic. In the past year, teachers and students have endured hate crimes, worsening student behavior and achievement, and endless health and safety regulations to name just a few challenges. Teachers are struggling just as much as students, as we can see in the increase of depression as well as in the case study below.
Transitioning teacher, Stephanie Hughes, struggled to adjust to new curriculum and demands to help students keep up from missing school. Hughes reflects: “You’re always told as a teacher, ‘You’re doing it for the kids. It’s hard, but you do it for the kids.’ And I was just coming to realize, I’m doing them a disservice by staying in the classroom. I’m not able to give them what they need, because I’m not taking care of myself.’” Hughes is motivated to be a teacher, but she reached a point where she felt that her stress was preventing her from showing up for her students. It is important for teachers to set boundaries for themselves to make time for mental health for themselves and their students. However, school policies around teacher mental health care and prevention must allow for this to happen.
Teaching requires emotional labor, especially in the context of the pandemic shifting education to online learning platforms. Teachers are left to figure out too much on their own whether it be finding resources, supplies, training, or support. A broad, systemic mental health change is necessary for teachers to feel like their jobs are manageable. The level of effort for teaching relies on paying attention to teacher mental health, suggesting that elevating teacher mental health care will benefit both students and teachers.
Fortunately, Teaching doesn’t have to be draining and there are ways to make teaching less stressful through Preventative Mental Health measures. Promoting mental health care for teachers can be interwoven into school policy and culture to mitigate burnout and improve retention. Keeping the conversation about mental health open amongst faculty can be facilitated by group wellness check-ins. Teachers need the space to feel comfortable talking about their personal lives, to improve their social wellness in the workplace, as well as set boundaries to have personal wellness outside of work.
Protecting teachers' time is also important as the demands for teachers have greatly increased with the shift to online learning platforms. Having mental health days or leniency with time off is important for teachers to perform their best at school. Offering resources for teachers to get help with the external demands that might come up should be taken care of. For instance, if a child needs special attention or care, there should be specialists at the school to make sure that these children are staying up to date with the rest of the class so this responsibility does not fall all on teachers.
Another teacher mental health prevention strategy is to engage teachers with the school system. According to the January RAND study, “positive school environments—in which educators are involved in decision making and feel supported—are linked with better educator well-being and a decreased likelihood of leaving.” Creating a school culture that values positivity and talking about mental health can help teachers feel better at work and perform better for students. Autonomy and support are two key things that contribute to teacher mental health, suggesting that teachers should be in charge of creating the type of work environment that they are in by opening the discussion about their needs, especially around mental health.
Creating and promoting mental health care services are essential to teachers' mental health as well. According to a RAND study, 20% of principals and 35% of teachers “said they either didn’t have access to employer-provided mental health support or didn’t know whether they had access.” Access and promoting mental health care in schools could be improved, as we can see that less than a quarter of teachers have access. Making sure that teachers have access to these services at any time is essential to their wellbeing, especially with their busy schedules. Meeting teachers where they are is key to Protect mental health.
If your teachers are feeling burnt out or stressed, Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program that would benefit students and educators. Neolth is on a mission to help teachers and students stress less, build resilience, and become a part of a compassionate community. Neolth helps people when they’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students and teachers alike. You can learn more at neolth.com or sign up today at cloud.neolth.com.
About the author:
Ginger Freeman (she/her) is an Editorial intern at Neolth and a senior at Santa Clara University studying Psychology, Public Health, and Asian Studies. Once she graduates, she plans to pursue a masters in counseling to become a licensed therapist. She is passionate about making mental health care more accessible and personalized, as well as applying zen theory to traditional psychotherapy. Through starting the conversation around mental health she hopes to reduce stigma and help people feel less alone! Outside of school, she enjoys spending time outside with friends, hot yoga, meditation, and listening to live music.