Teaching and Mental Health

Dr. David J. Koehn Psychologist Fort Myers, Florida

Dr. David Koehn is a psychologist practicing in Fort Myers, FL. Dr. Koehn specializes in the treatment of mental health problems and helps people to cope with their mental illnesses. As a psychologist, Dr. Koehn evaluates and treats patients through a variety of methods, most typically being psychotherapy or talk therapy.... more

Teaching and Mental Health


Dr. David J. Koehn


Taken from a series of internet sources here is a treatise on mental health and teaching. 

“The stress and anxiety that often accompanies teachers' jobs has a hugely negative effect on teacher performance and personal life. In fact, about one in 20 teachers has a long-lasting mental health issue.” In my private practice, I see about half a dozen teachers for a variety of mental health problems, some are job-related. 

Teaching is not a nine to five job. Responsibilities are not confined to the workspace, and teachers are not often able to distance themselves from work or student involvement when at home. Teaching, really, is an emotionally taxing profession.

Many teachers feel defeated at the end of the day. They didn’t get to the lesson plan that day. They have limited resources, so they often buy out of pocket.  One of their students is acting out, but the teacher doesn’t have the means to help them. Teachers do what they do because they love their students, and they believe in the power of education.

It’s no surprise many teachers struggle with some form of mental health problem. In fact, a recent study from the UCL Institute of Education reports that one in every twenty teachers (or about five percent) suffer from a mental illness that has lasted, or is likely to last, more than a year. Yes, awareness about teacher mental health is growing. However, there is not nearly enough being done to mitigate the issue, and many might not realize how common it is—or what is contributing to the problem. The following studies outline the mental health risks trends researchers are finding among teachers and school professionals. The results are not necessarily uplifting.

American Teachers Are Struggling

One recent survey suggests a concerning reality for the nation’s educators. After the Badass Teachers Association received a number of reports of high teacher stress, a group of teachers who are members of the American Federation of Teachers designed a survey that was filled out by over thirty thousand educators.  Of the thousands of respondents, eighty percent were teachers/special education teachers; eight percent were counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and librarians; and twelve percent held other positions in schools. Over two-thirds of respondents had been in education for over ten years, and nearly ninety-eight percent of respondents worked in a public school. The survey’s questions addressed a number of topics that affect teacher/school employee happiness, mental health, stress levels, and more.

Most respondents’ enthusiasm for their profession decreased as they spent more time in their school-related careers. Many respondents said they felt disrespected by elected officials, school boards, supervisors, students’ parents, and students themselves. Nearly seventy-three percent of respondents said they “often” find their work stressful.

Education workplaces have a multitude of moving parts, and not every school is the same. However, the survey did identify trends in the causes of teacher stress. Among the biggest sources of teacher stress are: 

  • Adoption of new initiative without proper training or professional development
  • Negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media
  • Uncertain job expectations
  • Salary

Respondents said that time pressure, student disciplinary issues, lack of opportunity to use the restroom, and student aggression were among the biggest everyday stressors in the workplace. Also, mandated curriculum, large class sizes, and standardized testing were also among the biggest everyday stressors in the classroom. To make matters more complicated, the survey also asked respondents about rates of bullying and assault against teachers. Many teachers are assaulted or threatened in a school setting, and many are bullied by fellow coworkers or administrators for a disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or other factors.  

As a consequence of all of these workplace and classroom factors, the survey found that thirty-four percent of teachers cited a decline in their mental health (increased stress, depression, and emotional changes). A follow-up survey two years later found a total of fifty-eight percent of teachers reported a decline in mental health, an increase of twenty-eight percent. Another study from University of Missouri professor Keith Herman found that ninety-three percent of elementary school teachers report experiencing a high-stress level.

The health effects of being a teacher are not limited to high-stress levels, depression, and anxiety. Many educators have forms of insomnia, secondary traumatic stress or even post-traumatic stress disorder explains one Yahoo Lifestyle article. Some teachers echoed these emotionally taxing feelings and discouraging sentiments. 

“If you're killing yourself ten hours a day and nothing is right and [students are] not succeeding, there's just no fulfillment,” one teacher named Beth said. For her, the pressure came largely from the school administration mandating daily faculty meetings and increased teacher scrutiny to raise the state test scores. It was enough to lead to her suicidal ideation.  “The thoughts that I had this time were that it would just be so easy to drive off the road,” Beth says. While she says there was no plan to actually do so, “it was just there in the back of my mind that it would be so much easier if I wasn't here.”

Some research suggests that teachers are beginning to open up more about their mental health and wellbeing. “The results from these studies mean more teachers who are struggling with their mental health are now getting help. However, more needs to be done to monitor and improve the mental health and wellbeing of the teaching profession – similar to the commitment that has been made to track teachers’ workloads over time,” said Jerrim.

What Now?
This is all heavy and complicated. It’s both political and personal. While a tremendous amount of research needs to be done to study teachers’ workloads, stress factors, retention rates, and more, the general issue is slowly coming to light. Teachers need emotional support, mental health resources, and healthy relationships with administrators and school boards. As we know, it might be a matter of life and death.

Not only is mental wellbeing critical, but the pandemic has also acerbated teacher stress. We have seen the statistics where the mental health of students is concerned (CDC statistics). COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue of mental health among all students, but more than ever, it has compounded the issue of mental health among our students living in poverty. That is why some experts have argued for students to be back in class in person rather than continue to be educated online.

COVID-19 has been one of the most difficult experiences that people have seen in their lifetimes. Close to six hundred thousand people in the U.S. have died with the outlook becoming even bleaker.  Little to no effort is being put into smart e-learning platforms to make the school experience appear more face-to-face and rewarding. We see parents who ignore which way to walk, children who have no idea what 6 feet mean, and adults who will have nervous breakdowns when the first cases of COVID appear in their schools.

Additional to that, social isolation, breaking habits that apparently include touching our faces and hugging other people, and the feeling of isolation will only get worse. We often hear about having a growth mindset, being resilient, or having grit in our educational world, but the pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to look within ourselves like never before. That opportunity is to get a handle on our mental health so we can better help our students as we move forward.

In summary, educator working conditions have a direct effect on the learning environment of our students.” Healthy teachers that feel encouraged and empowered can better do their jobs. Mental health is a reality for not just students, but the very people who support and teach them: their educators. Teachers tell their students that mindset matters. Yet teachers do not always allow themselves space to receive those same messages of reflection and self-care.  Henry Seton, in his courageous and insightful essay, explored the hurdles that teachers face, especially for those who work in schools in high-poverty settings. Safeguarding their mental health should be paramount. “Teachers are attuned to the social-emotional wellbeing of our students and trained to monitor for signs such as trauma, anxiety, bullying, or micro-aggressions,” “Yet we are still just learning how to discuss a huge, lurking threat to our work: our own mental health.”

What can we do? 

Here is a list of ways you can approach your own mental health:

  • Don’t be ashamed - Too long we worry about what everyone thinks about us. Do not be ashamed of having anxiety or issues of mental health.
  • Breathe - It is amazing how much it helps to just sit back and take in some deep breaths. Yes, it’s much more complicated than that, but taking time to breathe can lead us to make better decisions all day long.
  • Counseling - Most health-insurance companies cover counseling. There are even virtual sessions that you can schedule. The key to counseling is finding the right fit. You may not feel comfortable with the first person you see. Try to find a counselor that will give you what you truly need. If you need someone who listens, then find someone like that. If you need someone who will push back on you a bit, then find that person.
  • Read - Recently, Time published a whole journal on mental health. Give it a read. There is a lot of good information in there.
  • Faith - People find solace in their faith. Use that as a way to find your way through the issues you face.
  • Connections - Connect with friends who can help take you out of your own head and get you to relax and have fun.
  • Exercise - Physical activity is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety. Go out for a walk, run, or hike. Fresh air and deep breathing are great ways to deal with anxiety.
  • Step away from the desk - Teachers and leaders need to give themselves permission to walk away from the computer. Many educators did not really have a vacation this summer. They went directly from the end of pandemic teaching in the spring to the beginning of remote, hybrid, or in-person learning in the fall.
  • Mindfulness - I know it seems trendy these days to practice mindfulness, and perhaps for some people it is. However, 10 minutes a day or more of sitting and breathing can lead us to make better mental-health decisions all day long.
  • Take a break from social media - Social media can be great for getting new ideas and connecting with other professionals. However, it can also have adverse effects and get us to think we are not doing enough in our lives. Envy is a terrible addition to anxiety. Step away from social media from time to time.