How to Protect Teachers from Psychological Stress
[Image Credit: Vivian Shih for NPR]
The teaching profession has come a long way.
Back in the days of one-room schoolhouses, teacher responsibilities extended well beyond educating students. For poverty-level wages, teachers cleaned classrooms, chopped firewood, and fed hungry stomachs. When female teachers were married and became pregnant, they were no longer able to teach.
Today, teachers experience a different consortium of stressors.
Why Anxiety and Depression is Common Among Teachers
Prolonged periods of unmanageable stress are a precursor to anxiety and depression. Genetic factors also play a significant role in determining our susceptibility to mental illness but no matter where you land on the genetic spectrum, a toxic external environment can bring even the most resilient people to their knees.
Starling Minds™, a digital cognitive behavioral therapy platform, has treated thousands of educators who came to their breaking points with anxiety and depression due to workplace stressors. While every story is unique, there is often a perfect storm of external and internal factors that can lead to mind crippling anxiety or soul-wrenching depression.
Here is a brief list of the external pressures that teachers commonly discuss in Starling Minds’ online community:
- Increasing behavioral issues and violence—70% of teachers have experienced or seen violence in the classroom. Closely correlated to classroom violence is the rising prevalence of mental illness in students, which is why 95% of teachers believe that youth mental health should be a number one priority for federal funding.
- Complicated classroom composition—to cater to all learning abilities and levels, teachers now manage up to twelve individualized learning plans.
- Declining classroom resources—as classroom support dwindles, teachers have less support when it comes to managing the growing diversification in learning styles and behavioral issues in the classroom.
- Increasing demands and groups to appease—from parents and students to peers and administration, teachers answer to groups with rising expectations.
- Growing job insecurity—this is especially true during collective bargaining periods, funding cuts and looming job action.
Within Starling Minds’ online community, a teacher using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to build resilience to stress shares,
“The last five (school) years of my life have truly been a perfect storm. I’ve been living with an unmanageable level of stress for a long period of time and my battery is completely drained. I’ve put the demands of my school and my students first and have not taken care of myself—my mental health has suffered as a result of this.”
A teacher across the country responds,
“Thank you for sharing…I’m in the exact same boat. It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone. I wish we were having these conversations out in the open. It’s so characteristic of teachers to hold it together for everyone but themselves.”
How We Help Teachers Succeed in Complicated Conditions
One in five students in a teacher’s care suffers from at least one mental health problem or illness. Teachers hold the power to impact the mental health of these students. But to do so effectively, they need to develop knowledge and competencies to identify and manage their own mental health struggles.
70% of teachers believe that they have not received adequate professional preparation in mental health education. As a result, they feel unable to sufficiently understand or appropriately respond to students’ mental health needs as well as their own. Pre-service and in-service mental health literacy is imperative for both teachers and students to succeed and for communities to flourish.
In parting, I leave you with two comments from educators in Starling’s community with a gentle ask to consider your teachers and administrators: Do they have the evidence-based tools they need to properly manage their own mental health?
“Each day, when I work with our students with developmental delays, we practice the strategic breathing practice I’ve learned in Starling, and it is a highlight to the day. I can return to my VP duties, feeling confident and refreshed.” – Vice Principal
“Starling Minds is really helping. I really appreciate seeing and reading others’ comments too. Knowing that we are not alone and that we are working together on improving our days feels empowering. Thank you for the CBT strategies to take steps to move forward and become stronger.” – K-12 Teacher
To learn more about how Starling Minds™ is helping teachers build mental health literacy while becoming more resilient to stress, anxiety, and depression download our case study.