Teaching should not be one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S. But it is. And that was even before the pandemic.
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—reveals alarming statistics around teacher mental health.
- 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.
In the WeAreTeachers survey that we conducted this summer, we found similar sentiments.
- Seventy-five percent of survey responders reported that their mental health was worse this year.
- Only six percent of the teachers surveyed received counseling support from their school or district this past year. And only 22 percent reported that they received emotional support.
It’s time to change these numbers around. In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 11, we want to do everything we can to support teacher’s mental health, starting with the following.
Teachers need access to mental health days, and they need to take them
A mental health day is never wrong. Unfortunately, so many people feel that it is. They feel weak. They feel silly. They feel guilty. Teachers in particular feel they have to plan ahead, put together documentation for their sub, and then, really, what’s the point?
The point is that your mental health is one of the most important things you need to foster. You may need a day to unwind. You may need a day to catch up. You may need something more. Whatever you need, it’s time to take that mental health day. And it’s time for schools to step up and support their staff so the idea of taking paid time off isn’t completely untenable.
(Read More: Should Teachers Take Mental Health Days?)
Teachers need counseling options, and they need to use them
You’ve chosen one of the most rewarding and impactful careers available. You also chose one of the most demanding careers. You may be feeling mentally exhausted, especially with the start to the third year of teaching in a pandemic. If you’re feeling more overwhelmed than usual, you’re not alone, and you should consider talking to a professional.
In our dreams, every school would have counseling options for teachers and students. But if that’s not a possibility, start by exploring what’s available from your health insurance and human resource department. They hopefully have a list of available options for counseling that you can use. There are also many free and online resources available.
(Read More: 27+ Free Counseling Options for Teachers)
Teachers need principal support
We know it’s tough to be a principal right now too. Parents are emailing about COVID-related issues. Local leaders are sending down ever-changing pandemic responses. But now, more than ever, teachers need their principal’s support. They need to know that their admin has their backs, in even the toughest of times. Principals need to be supportive, push for mental health days, scale back on testing, and check in on their teachers. Because, teacher mental health is critical.
Teachers need work-life boundaries—and schools need to support those boundaries
The day ends and you take home all those ungraded papers, because you’ve got to grade them some time, right? Your email pings with an alert at 9 p.m. from a parent with a question about Sally’s test score. You wake in the middle of the night from a dream about lesson plans. With each little intrusion, your stress level rises. Studies show that when “work intrudes after hours in the form of pings and buzzes from smartphone alerts, it can cause spikes of stress that lead to a host of adverse effects, including negative work rumination, poor affect and insomnia.”
You may not be able to stop the dreams, but work-life boundaries are essential for preserving mental health. Creating those boundaries can often feel impossible, but you can start small. “I make time for email between 7-8 am and 2-3pm, and look forward to responding to your message then.” And to truly set work-life boundaries, your school needs to support them, too, reinforcing the need for teacher away time, creating space for lesson planning and grading during contract hours, and setting the expectation that all messages will be returned during certain windows.
Teachers need better pay
We’ve said it before. We’ll say it again. We’ll say it until we’re blue in the face. Teachers need better pay. Students do better. Staffing improves. Teachers can focus more rather than looking for second jobs. And now, we discovered, better pay helps increase mental health. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health says that “raising the minimum wage could also lead to less stress and substantial improvements in mental health, which would not only have the potential to further reduce suicide rates, but also be a benefit in their own right.”
(Read More: 6 Proven Benefits to Increasing Teacher Pay)
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.
What tips do you have for addressing teacher mental health? Come share your ideas on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Facebook.