Teaching should not be one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S. But it is. And that was even before the pandemic.
In the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey published this summer by research firm RAND and funded by the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, the statistics are alarming.
- More than 75 percent of teachers reported frequent job-related stress, compared to 40 percent of other working adults.
- Even worse, 27 percent of teachers reported symptoms of depression, compared to 10 percent of other adults.
- And, nearly 25 percent of teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic.
With these numbers, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more stories about the importance of self-care, classroom burnout, and mental health days for teachers. Yet, self-care doesn’t seem to come easily for people, and this is definitely true for teachers. By nature, educators are taught to give care and support others—not themselves.
We think it’s time to change that. In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 11, WeAreTeachers is working to change the dialogue about teacher mental health. Below are some of the top challenges people give for not seeking therapy, or even basic self-care, along with possible solutions and workarounds for each one.
We hope you share this article widely, giving support and love to your fellow educators. After all, self-care, good mental health, positive well-being—whatever you want to call it—is one of the single best things you can do for yourself. And it’s pretty much guaranteed to help you do what you set out to in the first place—be a good teacher.
I don’t have time for therapy
Solution: Try on-the-go therapy instead
It seems like everyone is fighting this battle these days. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. There are alternatives, though.
Talkspace is one of the best-known companies in this market. They offer on-demand therapy that you can do via text or messaging. To start, you’ll fill out some basic info, and then they’ll match you with a licensed therapist. Best of all, there’s no scheduling needed. You can write your therapist early in the morning, late at night, or anytime in between.
Problem: I don’t have the money
Solution: Use a free service or look into support groups
Whether you have no insurance, bad insurance, or you’re choosing not to use your insurance, therapy is expensive. Even a good insurance program will likely have co-pays, and those add up quickly. Luckily, we’ve gathered these free counseling options for teachers.
You can also look into support groups. For instance, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has this online resource. Another option is to look for group therapy, which can be cheaper than one-on-one options.
I tried therapy, and I didn’t like it
Solution: Try someone new
Maybe you did couple’s counseling once with your college significant other, and it was too new age for your taste. Or maybe you had to do counseling as a kid, and it brings back bad memories. Whatever the case may be, do not let a bad therapy experience put you off of therapy completely.
Try someone new. And if you don’t like them, even after the first visit, try another person. At the end of the day, it’s your time and money. Don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find the right fit.
I’m not to that point yet
Solution: Don’t wait for it to get there
“If you are telling yourself that you are not to that point yet, it means that you recognize that there is an issue and that it is worsening,” says GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed counselor with PsychPoint Mental Health Center. “Waiting until you cannot take it anymore is detrimental to your health and the well-being of your students.”
She recommends having a general conversation with a mental health professional, so they can help you assess. Yes, it can be hard to get to the point of asking for help. But it really is an important part of self-care.
I can handle this on my own
Solution: Have a backup plan for support
“There’s a big disconnect between higher education and what happens in a K–12 classroom,” says Kristin Bertolero, an inclusion facilitator who worked for years as a special ed teacher and then as a college professor. She says education can be especially difficult for new teachers because it’s such a hard job to prepare for.
“There’s a lot of stress about what you’re taught to teach and then what actually happens in the classroom,” she says. It’s important for teachers to remember they’re learning, and it’s perfectly okay to seek help from a colleague, admin, or mentor. Even reaching out to a counselor is a good option to help bring perspective and navigate through the emotional field of teaching.
“It’s a difficult profession because you’re constantly being bombarded with more information and more demands. A good counselor will be able to help give you perspective and possible solutions that are actionable.”
I don’t want to go on medication
Solution: Explore all of your options
“As teachers, we would do everything in our power to help our students,” writes an elementary school teacher from our WeAreTeachers community. “Yet, when it’s for our own health, we resist.”
This teacher talked about her battle with depression and how she put off going to see someone because she thought they’d put her on medication. Once she finally gave in, she talked to her therapist about her concerns. Together, they came up with a plan to try diet, exercise, and natural remedies first. She did eventually end up on a low dosage of medicine for about a year, but above all, she says her fear of meds far outweighed the reality.
Guarino adds, “In most cases, medication is not necessary for mental health. Just learning skills to cope and keeping in touch with a mental health professional is enough to maintain mental health and prevent a condition or issue from worsening.”
I live in a small town, and there aren’t many resources
Solution: Get creative with online and video options
For anyone in a small town or rural area, this is definitely a concern. Not only can resources be limited, but there’s a good chance your therapist might also be your best friend’s cousin … or the pianist from your wedding. “I don’t want everyone knowing my business,” a middle school teacher in our WeAreTeachers community writes. “I prefer to keep to myself.”
Even if this isn’t your top concern, just having enough resources in some communities is a real struggle. Instead, try online resources or providers who will do a therapy session over the phone or even video.
I just don’t want to
Solution: Don’t give up
No one can make you be ready to look into therapy or mental health options. It’s something you have to figure out on your own.
However, think about the love, support, and advice you’d give a friend, student, colleague, sibling, or parent—and then try to apply that same kindness and wisdom to yourself. Maybe you aren’t ready to call a therapist and make an appointment. Or maybe you’re still figuring it out, one day at a time.
Teaching shouldn’t be one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S., but it is. So you can’t forget to take care of yourself along the way.
What tips do you have for addressing teacher mental health? Come share your ideas on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Facebook.