Mental health crisis for teachers? Over half considered calling it quits during COVID

NEW YORK — Working in a pandemic is pushing teachers to the brink, a new study finds. In fact, more than half have considered switching careers over the last 18 months.

A recent survey of 2,002 respondents, which included 1,006 K-12 teachers, suggests that the mental health of America’s educators is in crisis. Four in five K-12 teachers say that 2020 was the most stressful year of their careers, compared to 71 percent of those who aren’t teachers.

While many teachers are excited about the return to the classroom, 49 percent described themselves as “nervous” about this school year.

Teachers in trouble

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Vida Health, the survey also reveals that only 38 percent of teachers have successfully sought out professional mental health support in the last 18 months, while another 14 percent have tried to get support without success.

When asked what word they’d use to describe their mental state over the past year, 55 percent of K-12 teachers picked “stressed,” making it the most popular answer. That stress is mainly due to worries over the pandemic, with “health and safety concerns” being the factor most likely to impact their mental health (44%).

Another 36 percent believe that managing their own children’s virtual learning also played a significant role in their mental struggles. One in three also cited the stress of virtual teaching overall. Of those who didn’t seek mental health assistance during the last 18 months, more teachers (43%) felt equipped to handle their issues by themselves, compared to just 30 percent of non-educators who said the same thing.

“K-12 teachers typically can’t just pop out in the middle of their workday to go see a therapist,” says Chris Mosunic, PhD Chief Clinical Officer at Vida Health, in a statement. “So virtual therapy can be particularly helpful to them. In fact, during the pandemic, we saw that teachers enrolled in virtual mental health and therapy programs at a higher rate than any other profession.”

Getting in the way of their lessons?

On top of these internal struggles, teachers also worry about making sure their mental health doesn’t interfere with their ability to teach.

Two in three teachers believe their students can recognize when they’re having a bad day. Nearly two in five teachers will mentally “check out” when dealing with internal conflicts (38%), while another two in five confess to giving less engaging lessons.

“Even coming out of last year, most teachers and schools aren’t set up to instruct their students completely virtually,” Mosunic continues. “Just about every solution currently available is going to be sub-par compared to teaching students in person. But in-person instruction comes with its own challenges, which is putting additional strain on the mental health of our educators. We need to provide our teachers with not only the best chance to succeed in the classroom but also the best chance to thrive outside of it.”