Student mental health is at the forefront of educators’ minds these days after two years of pandemic-driven stress and disruption—but district leaders forget about the adults in the school building at their own peril, experts say.
About 1 in 4 teachers said they were experiencing symptoms of depression in an early 2021 survey by the RAND Corp., a research group and think tank. In a separate survey, RAND also found that most secondary school principals were experiencing frequent job-related stress—and one of their big stressors was supporting teachers’ mental health and well-being.
Left unaddressed, that stress could lead to a massive exodus of educators. Despite that, only a third of district and school leaders said they have made counselors or mental health services available to staff since the start of the pandemic or added to the mental health services already offered, according to a nationally representative EdWeek Research Center survey of nearly 900 educators conducted in January and February.
Forty-four percent of those who responded said they have offered or increased their offerings of professional development on self-care, which educators and experts say is not enough on its own to address clinical mental health needs. And 17 percent said they have not taken any steps to address staff mental health needs during the pandemic even though their current offerings are inadequate.
Targeted mental health support for staff is crucial for a thriving school environment, experts say.
“Teacher well-being is incredibly important, not only for them but for their students’ learning experiences as well,” said Leigh McLean, an assistant research professor at the Center for Research in Education & Social Policy at the University of Delaware.
Her research has found that teachers with depression spend less time doing whole-class instruction—likely because it’s more demanding and energy-intensive—and have fewer warm and responsive interactions with…