- Teachers face similar mental health crises as students without the necessary support, new research shows.
- The Ohio School Health Initiative is working to end the mental health crisis in schools by helping institutions meet the needs of students and teachers.
- Experts say it’s critical that teachers have access to much-needed mental health support during and after the pandemic.
Amid the surge in Omicron, students and teachers across the country are walking out of schools to protest unsafe learning and working conditions.
Teachers face a similar mental health crisis as students, but they receive little support, new research shows.
In a recent assessment conducted by Miami University in Ohio, nearly two-thirds of teachers reported an increase in concerns about emotional exhaustion, while three-fifths reported concerns about anxiety.
While teachers feel isolated and frustrated, they are much less likely to have access to mental health resources at school than students, researchers told VigorTip via email.
“I feel zero, but I walk into the classroom and I have to pretend I’m 100 percent,” Quennie G., an elementary school teacher in Toronto, Canada, who is currently on leave due to job stress, told Very Well. “I have to do my thing, teach my lessons, get involved, support them, be patient with them, but I myself feel like I’m pouring out of an empty glass.”
Quennie teaches at an elementary school in a low socioeconomic area of Toronto, where students were already disadvantaged before the pandemic. She said she has struggled with her mental health since schools resumed face-to-face learning, and she has started to witness an alarming increase in violence in the halls.
How parents and schools can help students continue face-to-face learning
“Kids need to know their day-to-day schedule — that’s how they cope,” she said, explaining she’s seen everything from kids trying to push each other over a stairwell rail to students banging each other’s heads against bathroom doors various things on. year.
“When they don’t have a set routine, behavior starts to change, and that’s where we notice the violence,” she added. “If they don’t know what’s going to happen, they get anxious and they show it through violence.”
A lack of social interaction among students for the better part of two years was also a factor, she said, as children had little experience learning how to communicate and resolve conflicts with each other.
As Quennie began to see an increase in student violence, she started staying up late to research new ways to help students navigate difficult emotions. She often struggled through the night with what she saw earlier in the day, and she began to experience extreme sleep deprivation and night sweats, which in turn made it more difficult for her to complete challenging tasks.
“It really affects your mental health because you can’t really feel the stress you’re feeling because you have to do this show for kids,” she said. “I want to do this because I love them and I care about them.”
Dr. Ross Green
It’s easy to overlook the fact that a school is a workplace – like a hospital – and a stressful one.
— Dr. Ross Green
Mental health problems are not acknowledged
When Quennie expressed her concerns to school administration, she was told it was the same at every school. And there was simply no budget to hire an extra person to provide her with an extra pair of eyes in the classroom.
She said there were also no real consequences for students who displayed violent behaviour and monitored their safety.
Quennie tried to cope with her mental health by overeating, and at one point she took one day off a week so she could function properly.
Eventually, the physical manifestations of her mental health struggles became too much to ignore, and she received a notice from her doctor to take stress leave for the rest of the school year. Quinney said the school had never provided her with any substantial support in the months between returning to school and leaving.
“I didn’t get any [resources or support], just a little ‘hope you get better soon’ message, but nothing really helpful,” she said. “I actually went out on my own to start treatment, and then I went to talk to my doctor. I’m on antidepressants right now, I’m journaling, doing all these things, but it’s coming through my therapist — not through the workplace. “
How parents and schools can help students continue face-to-face learning
Dr. Ross Greene, a psychologist who has worked with children with behavioral problems for more than 30 years, told VigorTip he sees as many teachers as students who need his support during the pandemic.
“It’s easy to overlook the fact that a school is a workplace — like a hospital — and it’s a stressful workplace,” Green said. “Educators should meet the very different academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs of individual students, while meeting the demands of high-stakes testing, dealing with parents, and adapting to each new initiative.”
Despite low wages and a lack of recognition, most educators were juggling all of these tasks even before the pandemic, he added.
“If you add extra stress to an already stressful situation — if the extra stress goes on for a long time — people naturally get mentally exhausted and run out of energy,” Green said.
One of the researchers reporting from the University of Miami, LSW’s Deb Robison, said she heard from many teachers who had a similar experience with Quennie in listening sessions with school staff.
In addition to their research, Robison and her team at the Ohio School Health Initiative are working to address the mental health crisis for students and teachers by developing and implementing a three-part framework that includes a statewide student assistance program ( SAP) model to strengthen professional interventions for youth and address employee mental health issues.
Robison and her team recruited 80 pilot schools from Ohio, but some dropped out. She said they have been working with the schools to provide technical assistance and support as they implement all three components of the program, which they developed based on research findings.
For the employee mental health component, pilot schools are encouraged to implement best practices to support employee wellness, professional resilience, secondary trauma prevention, resilience, self-care, and more.
Ask the Experts: How to Protect Your Mental Health During the Omicron Surge
Educators want their leaders to “lead with vulnerability,” Robinson said.
“What they mean is, when something bothers them, share. They don’t want their leaders to be the strong and silent type, but express it when they’re struggling. It helps employees not feel like they’re the only ones challenges,” she said.
Schools are advised to adopt HR department policies related to employee assistance programs, such as mental health days. They also received specific guidelines on supporting employees at risk for or experiencing substance abuse and mental health disorders, such as providing depression screening.
Ongoing research by the Ohio School Health Initiative provides a framework for student and teacher support that can be implemented across Ohio. Robison said it could be replicated in other states to address the growing mental health crisis in schools.
A similar mental health support framework is sorely needed for the well-being of educators, Green said, who have played a vital role in helping students cope with the unprecedented pressures brought on by the pandemic.
“It all starts with listening to educators, listening to them, taking their concerns seriously, and responding to what they tell us,” Green said.
what does this mean to you
If you’re a teacher struggling with mental health during the pandemic, know that you’re not alone. If your workplace does not have the resources, contact your management for assistance and seek outside support.
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