It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immense negative impact on the mental health of individuals throughout the world. The social isolation, fear of the unknown, and rapid changes in professional settings left many people feeling as though they had lost control of their lives. The Mental health Crisis which has followed affects everyone.
Mental Health America (MHA) stated that it saw increasing numbers of people struggling with mental health concerns as a result of the pandemic. In 2021, more than 5 million individuals participated in mental health screenings. This represented an increase of nearly 500% from the number of participants in 2019, indicating how concerned people are about their mental health.
But even as people have taken steps to adjust to the “new normal,” there remain lingering effects of the associated psychological battles so many people faced at the height of the pandemic. This could not be truer for teachers.
The Toll on Teachers’ Mental Health
Teachers have been notably impacted by the pandemic. The reported decline in their mental health is troubling. But even before the pandemic, teaching was said to be one of the most stressful careers. A 2017 study by the American Federation of Teachers indicated that 61% of educators found their jobs to be stressful the majority of the time. This is approximately twice the rate of workers in other professions.
Then the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the teaching environment changed in a way no one could have anticipated. Teachers were suddenly forced to adjust the entire way they approached their profession. One of the most significant shifts was having to transition to online learning. Accustomed to an environment where they interacted face to face with students, teachers now not only had to change their teaching style by running classes online. They also had to find ways to navigate their curriculums so that they could accommodate the new learning environment.
Interestingly, some teachers did not feel like this was the most stressful part of the pandemic’s effect on their profession. One article noted that teachers said that they felt a sense of camaraderie during the initial transition to online learning. They were all learning how to handle the change together. And while that was still stressful, when schools started reopening, stress levels began to escalate.
The rate at which schools reopened for in-person learning varied by state and district. While many people were happy to be back in the classroom, there were still concerns about the risks associated with COVID-19. There were parents who didn’t want their kids to return to school in person, so some schools maintained a virtual learning option. Other schools began offering hybrid models where kids would rotate between in-person and online classes. In addition, there were ongoing debates about whether masks should be required.
Yet, teachers often didn’t have a say in the matter. In some cases, they had to follow guidelines they didn’t agree with or that made them uncomfortable. It is no surprise that all these factors created an immense amount of stress and anxiety.
The pandemic aside, there has also been a surge in other school-focused controversies, ranging from banning books in libraries and adjusting curriculums to match today’s social climate to reevaluating grading systems and making traditional academic requirements malleable. In the middle of it all, teachers have to continue adjusting to their ever-evolving realities, following rules that are imposed on them, however unrealistic or unreasonable they may be.
Understandably, teachers are burnt out, and many of them are leaving the profession to save their own mental health. In January 2022, the results of a poll on stress and burnout showed that 55% of teachers reported being more likely to leave the profession sooner than they had planned.
So how can we help teachers? It’s simple — check in on them. If you have children in school, send encouraging notes or emails. If you have friends or loved ones who are teachers, reach out and see how they are doing. Sometimes the smallest bit of encouragement can make a world of difference.
It is also important for teachers to take care of themselves. MHA offers helpful tips for ways teachers can preserve their mental health. But at the end of the day, teachers need to do what’s best for them. One can only hope that teachers’ voices will be heard and changes will be made within the education system so that we don’t keep losing the people who can be one of the most positive influences on children and their futures.
About Mount Regis Center
Mount Regis Center provides personalized residential and outpatient programming for adults age 18 and older who are struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health concerns. The facility, which is located in Salem, Virginia, also offers a specialized residential treatment track for young adults ages 18-28. Treatment at Mount Regis Center is a holistic, patient-centered experience that empowers each adult to make sustained progress toward improved health and long-term recovery. For more information, please visit www.mtregis.com.