Some of the most stressful experiences that we face in our lives involve unexpected challenges that turn our worlds upside down, such as accidents, losing a loved one, an illness diagnosis, or a sudden change in how we live our lives daily. For the 3.1 million public school teachers in the United States, COVID-19 presented a terrifying health crisis that required educators to suddenly shift everything about how they did their jobs. For some, there was work from home requirements and the need to rapidly and effectively learn how to teach online. Many experienced hybrid learning expectations, and then others returned to the classroom (some with hybrid learning still in place), and the need to enforce social distancing requirements—all in 14 months.
The stress on teachers has been significant. In addition to the challenges of teaching, many educators continue to fear for their health and the mental and physical health of their loved ones. A recent study by RAND found that:
- Almost half of the public school teachers who voluntarily stopped teaching in public schools after March 2020 and before their scheduled retirement left because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For some teachers, the pandemic exacerbated already high-stress levels pre-pandemic by requiring long hours and the need to navigate an unfamiliar remote environment with an emphasis on unfamiliar technology.
- Stress was cited as the most common reason for leaving public school teaching early—almost twice as common as insufficient pay.
Not only is stress taking a toll on our educators, but so is depression. Teachers who, for decades, have been fueled by in-person interactions with students are feeling isolated while teaching remotely and staring at a computer screen in a room by themselves for hours every day.
A study out of Louisiana that focused on early childhood educators’ mental health found that rates of depression almost doubled during the pandemic, with more than a third of respondents indicating depressive symptoms.
This May, as we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, we aim to elevate awareness of the impacts of stress on teachers. We also aim to support public education’s ability to hire and retain high-quality educators and identify more ways that our communities, parents, and school leaders can foster greater mental health support resources for teachers in need.
When to Get Help and Where to Find Support Resources
If you are a teacher and you are suffering from feelings of stress or depression caused by the pandemic and its changes to your work responsibilities and requirements, know first of all that you are not alone. Resist the urge to suffer in silence or to sacrifice your happiness for your students, colleagues, or community. Everyone deserves to be supported and accommodated to ensure the kind of work-life balance that enables job satisfaction, happiness, and at least seven hours of high-quality sleep every night.
If you believe you are experiencing mental health symptoms, talk to your family, especially if you carry the burden of balancing work and home responsibilities. Then, talk to your doctor. Be honest about your symptoms and how your stress or depression are impacting your daily life. Your doctor can help by creating a treatment plan to enable you to cope with symptoms and overcome stress triggers.
Finally, talk to your school leaders. If you are struggling, you are likely not alone. Your leaders will want to understand better the emotional toll that the pandemic has on faculty to identify staffing adjustments, third-party mental health resources, and education opportunities to support teachers’ needs and retain them in our classrooms.
The road to recovery from COVID-19 will transcend nationwide vaccinations and economic stabilization. For everyone who is emotionally altered, give yourself the time and grace to talk with a mental health expert and take the steps needed to recover emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages