People hail teachers as heroes, but only under very specific circumstances. When society sees teachers as self-sacrificing heroes, teachers are praised. But when teachers ask for better working conditions and reasonable pay, they are vilified. Many people only love teachers when they can see them as martyrs. When they can no longer do that, they lash out.
Teachers are dealing with increasing demands, and those demands have taken a toll on their mental health. Educators are dealing with issues such as alcohol abuse, sleep issues, and more. Below are just some of the most common mental health struggles that teachers face today.
- Chronic Stress
Educators face higher levels of stress than people in many other professions. Increasing workloads, fear for student safety, and several other factors make teaching a more difficult job than it has been in the past.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the problem even worse, as many people now expect teachers to put their own health at risk.
This kind of stress builds over time, often creating long-term health issues. Chronic stress causes sleep issues, physical pain, and emotional struggles. Eventually, chronic stress can turn into other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Burnout is a persistent state of mental and physical exhaustion due to one’s job or responsibilities. Signs of burnout can include:
- disliking a job that one used to enjoy
- dreading work
- loss of empathy
- difficulty concentrating
According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for burnout include.
- poor workplace dynamics
- lack of support
- lack of work-life balance
- high energy demands
All of these factors are common among teachers. In fact, all “helping” professions, such as nursing and childcare, have high rates of burnout.
People in these professions often experience compassion fatigue, which can occur when people spend more time taking care of others than themselves. When educators cannot take time to care for themselves, compassion fatigue may eventually turn into burnout.
Burnout looks very similar to depression. Some mental healthcare experts view them as the same condition. However, others distinguish the two by stating that burnout is situational while depression impacts all parts of life.
In other words, a person who experiences burnout may feel better when they don’t have to think about work. A person with depression, on the other hand, will lose pleasure in all activities, not just work-related activities.
Burnout and depression can exist independently or together. One may also lead to the other.
Education research shows that teachers experienced high rates of depression during the second COVID-19 wave, likely due to increased stress levels.
- Anxiety and Panic
Persistent stress can also create anxiety and panic. While every person faces short-term anxiety at different times, some people develop anxiety that persists. A person with an anxiety disorder may feel fear, dread, and irritability even when they are objectively safe.
Many of the conditions that teachers deal with, such as conflicting demands and lack of sleep, can make anxiety worse.
Some teachers may also experience panic attacks, which are short bursts of intense anxiety. Some people report that panic attacks feel similar to heart attacks.
Protecting Teacher Mental Health
Teachers need systemic change, but in the meantime, it’s important that people support teachers on an individual level. For parents and administrators, this means understanding that teachers deal with a lot of demands from day to day.
For teachers, self-care can include setting strong boundaries, attending support groups, and talking to a doctor about chronic stress. As you consider your options, remember that your mental health matters just as much as anybody else’s.