Mental Health IS Health

By. Meredith Biesinger 

Educators know that mental health issues existed before the pandemic, and there have always been issues. Enter the pandemic, and all problems, from learning gaps to mental health needs for students and teachers, were exasperated. 

Time, effort, and funds have been poured into school districts to help combat the impact of the pandemic, and there is a greater focus on mental health for students, as there should be. But what about educators? Mental health IS health, and we need our educators and support staff who are on the front lines and spending day in and day out with students to be healthy too. 

It’s often forgotten that teachers are human beings, period. They have an entire life outside of their classroom, not to mention many of them have children who are students too. Not only do they need to teach and look after 20+ children in their classrooms, but they also are expected to modify curriculum for different learning needs and special needs students, respond to parents, and deal with a hundred other interruptions all of the time. In a 2020 Gallup poll, teachers tied with nurses as having the most stressful daily job. There seems to be a fix-it mentality and often a need for more appreciation from the general society for what teachers do daily. 

There also seems to be a third metric to success in 2023. It’s always been 1) Money. 2) Status. And now, an added metric of 3) Well being. Teachers are underpaid, and their success comes from the value they feel in helping a child learn and succeed each day. Their well-being is crucial and needs to be supported. 

Educators everywhere are experiencing burnout due to chronic stress that was never really dealt with and went awry. We hear the term PTSD a lot, and that’s true for teachers too. Secondary trauma is common for teachers who genuinely care about their students, their learning, and the child as a whole. Worrying about students who don’t come from a positive or caring home life, who come to school hungry, or with signs or indicators of neglect or abuse, and struggle with mental health challenges is a daily occurrence in the life of many K 12 teachers. 

What does chronic stress look like for an educator? It might look like intrusive thoughts, where it’s hard to let the day go, or you’re focusing on a particular student or situation. It might also look like negative emotions, where you might feel like no one understands you or what you’re experiencing. Hyperarousal is common, and rightfully so, as educators continue to be trained and practice active shooter drills and mentally prepare themselves with questions like “what will I do if?” 

There are ways to prevent burnout and lighten this load for educators.

Often referred to as The 3 C’s. Control, commitment, and challenge. 

Control—Control what you can. Make your classroom your safe haven. Administrators should look at what control they can give to teachers as well. It’s healthy for anyone and everyone to have some control in their lives.

Commitment—Evaluate your level of commitment and what could be helpful to stay committed or re-commit in your journey of being an educator. 

Challenge—Have a growth mindset. Are you challenged positively? If not, evaluate what could be done to change that. 

In addition to The 3 C’s, find a supportive environment within your school. It could be the teacher’s lounge or a group of friends within your faculty and staff. Feel free to set clear boundaries with parents, as quality time with their child during the day should take precedence over constant parent communication. 

Administrators, have open conversations with teachers and ask what would help them. This shift and focus on mental health is taking place in large companies everywhere, and for a good reason. Mental health and well-being support is no longer a suggestion. It is necessary. 

Support is vital on every level, from bus drivers to support staff to teachers and administrators. We have initiatives for students that encourage mindfulness, and progress daily, which is terrific! However, there needs to be a parallel process for educators too. Otherwise, it’s much like the “Do as I say, but not as I do” mentality.  Mental health IS health, and it’s time to ensure our teachers are healthy.