A new study published in Education Researcher looked at teachers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our study investigated teachers’ mental health throughout the pandemic, comparing outcomes between teachers and other professionals,” study author Joseph M. Kush told us. “We further compared mental health outcomes between in-person and remote teachers. We were hoping to provide a snapshot of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers’ and professionals’ mental health.”

Prior research has demonstrated teacher stress to be a major concern, with teachers consistently experiencing some of the highest levels of occupational stress among most professionals.

According to the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey, over 75 per cent of teachers say they’ve experienced frequent job-related stress compared to 40 per cent of other working adults. Symptoms of depression were reported in 27 per cent of teachers while 10 per cent of other adults experienced depression. A quarter of teachers said they were likely to leave the profession by the end of the 2021 school year. Prior to the pandemic, the rate was one in six teachers.

In another survey called We Are Teachers, 75 per cent of teachers surveyed said their mental was worse in 2021 than in the previous year. Counselling by the school or district was provided to just six per cent of participants in the survey.

With the quick initial pivot to remote teaching, followed by uncertainty due to modifications of instructional policies, the researchers thought they might expect particularly high levels of stress and negative mental health outcomes among teachers during the pandemic.

“Most educational research examining the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has focused on outcomes such as student achievement, student mental health, and public health and safety measures in academic settings,” Kush told us. “There has been less focus on teacher mental health during the pandemic. Ultimately, teachers’ well-being impacts their ability to effectively teach.”

Using a large national dataset comprised of more than 130,000 teachers and 2.6 million other professionals, the researchers compared self-reported rates of 1) depressive symptoms, 2) anxiety symptoms, and 3) feelings of isolation, accounting for numerous factors such as age, gender, county-level COVID19 cases and deaths.

“Teachers had significantly higher rates of anxiety symptoms throughout the pandemic than healthcare workers, office workers, and ‘other’ type workers,” Kush told us. “Among teachers, those teaching remotely had significantly higher rates of depressive symptoms and feelings of isolation than those teaching in-person.”

Teachers had significantly higher rates of anxiety symptoms than healthcare workers. During the pandemic, Kush would have guessed this to be opposite, that healthcare workers, battling COVID on the front lines, would display the highest levels of anxiety. The fact that teachers felt more anxious than healthcare workers during a public health crisis was extremely surprising to him.

“There is a need for tools and programs to support and safeguard the mental health of teachers, as such measures have the potential to improve working conditions, teacher retention, and ultimately, student learning outcomes,” Kush told us. “I am hopeful others continue researching these understudied yet crucial topics.”

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