Teacher Mental Health
How to boost teacher mental health
In the past ten years, it has become more normalized to discuss the importance of mental health, including concepts like therapy, medication, and asking for psychological support when necessary. With the introduction of legislation like the Student Mental Health Helpline Act and the Student Mental Health Rights Act, the conversation surrounding student mental health has encouraged leaders to take action. But those who attend educational institutions aren’t the only ones who struggle: Educators are not above the perils of poor mental health.
It’s important to focus resources on teachers’ well-being because the dangers of burnout and stress are very real in the profession. So what is the state of educators’ mental health and what can we do to boost it sustainably? We’ll answer those questions and provide ways for teachers and administrators to protect their mental health in order to give students the best opportunity for an education.
What is the state of teacher mental health today?
Poor educator mental health isn’t a new phenomenon, as showcased by a 2014 Gallup report that found that 46% of K-12 teachers had extremely high levels of stress related to their profession. However, the state of educator well-being plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A study of a large national data set evaluated the mental health of teachers during the pandemic and reported that “teachers showed a significantly higher prevalence of negative mental health outcomes during the pandemic when compared to health care and office workers.”
Nearly three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators are still trying to realign to normal teaching practices. Despite the fact that most K-12 schools are back to in-person teaching, the value of teacher mental health is still an important conversation to have. Just one look at the teacher turnover rate will reveal that educators’ well-being is still suffering.
Mental health check
Job-related stress can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression in educators. Education Support’s “Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022” offers insight into why staff working in education may continue to “experience higher levels of depression and anxiety than those reported in the general population.”
The report surveyed 2,082 education professionals to find that 75% of all staff in schools are stressed. In addition, the report found that 78% of educators said that they experienced mental health symptoms because of their job in 2022. When teachers continue to experience elevated levels of mental health conditions and worsening well-being, going back to work and supporting the education of students becomes more difficult.
What resources are available for struggling teachers?
In a modern world that encourages transparency around mental health, it’s important to provide resources for those who need them the most. However, many Americans suffer from inaccessible health care services. From the financial burden to the difficulty finding quality care, there are many barriers that prevent teachers from finding the right resources. According to research from One Mind At Work, “a patient with major depression can spend an average of $10,836 a year on health costs.”
But there is good news on the horizon, with many government and independent organizations realizing the poor state of educator mental health and finding ways to provide aid. Here are some of the best services that we have found to support the mental health of teachers and school staff.
Mental Health Support Services
- Happy Teacher Revolution is an “international movement with the mission to support the mental health and wellness of teachers. We train Revolutionaries around the world to initiate Happy Teacher Revolution support group meetings in their own communities.”
- Teaching with Mental Health in Mind is a Facebook group where teachers can find new resources, books, and connect with other educators.
- Breathe for Change is an organization that works to provide educators “with social-emotional learning strategies, mindfulness tools, and yoga practices to support educator well-being and transform school communities.”
- Teach for America is an organization that works to support students and teachers in the variety of roadblocks they face, including mental health awareness.
- The National Education Association offers resources for teachers’ own mental health and gives ways for them to safely assist in helping support students.
Educator mental health has captured the attention of lawmakers, who have introduced the following legislation to aid teachers who are in need of mental health resources:
- Teacher Health and Wellness Act
- The act was first introduced in the House during the 2019/2020 Congress and the main goal was to “require the Director of the National Institutes of Health to carry out a study to add to the scientific knowledge on reducing teacher stress and increasing teacher retention and well-being, and for other purposes.”
- The Mental Health Matters Act
- One of the most recent acts to address mental health concerns for educators, “the bill creates various grants to increase the number of school-based mental health services providers […] and prohibits arbitration and discretionary clauses in employer-sponsored benefit plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, and establishes an occupational research program on mental health.”
If you are an educator who is struggling with mental health or an administrator who notices increasing job-related stress among the teachers in your school district, there are varying solutions. For leaders, it’s vital to offer teachers high-quality resources to increase their overall well-being. As an educator, speak up and ask for help if you are feeling negative mental health conditions.
The reality of teacher burnout
Even before the notorious COVID-19 pandemic, teachers were feeling overwhelmed and underpaid; the effects of mental health led them to feel burnt out. You may have heard the term “burnout” before, but are unaware of the consequences of this state of mind. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that burnout is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
The WHO breaks burnout into three main categories:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
- Reduced professional efficacy.
Teachers who experience high levels of burnout can become so exhausted that they leave the job for good.
What teacher turnover tells us
Turnover is the rate at which employees leave their job and are replaced. The important concept to note is that turnover takes into account the number of new workers entering the workforce. Attrition is simply the number of workers who are leaving the profession. Ideally, the attrition rate will match the number of people joining the labor force. Analysts look at the turnover rate as an indicator of how well an industry is doing, and the same can be done for the education sector.
In 2023, the teacher turnover rate is unfavorable, with educators leaving the profession at a record rate. According to a Chalkbeat report, the turnover rate was higher than it had been in the past three decades. Their report found that more teachers found a new career path after the previous school year in eight states.
Reasons for burnout and teacher attrition
So why are educators leaving their jobs for reasons other than retirement? There are several reasons that teachers get too burnt out to return to the classroom, many citing worsening mental health. An Adopt-a-Classroom report from spring 2022 found five main reasons that educators were planning to leave the profession before the 2022/2023 school year:
- 80% said that they were burned out.
- 64% said that there is not enough support staff to help them.
- 63% said that they weren’t getting paid enough.
- 62% said that they spent too much of their own money on necessary supplies.
- 58% said that teachers are not treated with respect in their community.
Many of these factors could have a negative effect on educators’ mental health, and, without the right support, many choose to find another career that will contribute to increasing their well-being.
How to support educators in their mental health
It’s up to school districts, administrators, and communities to create a healthy culture of support for teachers. Educators’ mental health is vital for flourishing schools, and it’s important to find ways to support their well-being. This includes reducing systemic barriers to getting the mental health care necessary.
According to EdSurge, one of the best ways to support teachers is for them to be there for each other. Their research found that, when the environment is safe and supportive, teachers are more comfortable expressing their struggles to each other. According to their study, “educators repeatedly expressed relief to be surrounded by others who understood what they were going through.” Isolation can exacerbate mental health struggles, and a sense of community can ward off feelings of anxiety and depression.
To the same end, educational institutions and their leaders have an obligation to provide high-quality resources for both students and teachers. Interested in finding districts and schools exploring ways to support teachers’ mental health? Agile Education might be the right partner for you.
Reach out to our team today to learn more.