There’s a push for teachers to focus on student mental health – which is important – however, teacher mental health also needs to be addressed. One in twenty teachers report experiencing a mental health diagnosis lasting longer than a year. We can assume many more are suffering silently or undiagnosed, and that the numbers are on the rise with the added stressors of pandemic teaching. One of the mental health conditions teachers are often diagnosed with is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, depression, insomnia, avoidant behaviors, and panic attacks. If this sounds like a regular day in the classroom, you might be impacted.
Why would teachers have PTSD? Isn’t it for soldiers?
While we frequently hear about soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home from war, anyone who has experienced a traumatic event is at risk. Trauma is classified as “events beyond a typical stressor.” Teaching is a tough profession. It’s often stressful, exhausting, emotionally taxing, and physically draining – all without much recognition or appreciation.
A typical day for a teacher might include:
- Arriving at work exhausted because you were up too late trying to get caught up on your overwhelming workload
- Getting berated in front of your colleagues by an administrator for something out of your control for the third time this month
- Technology you need to do your job not working with no one available to offer assistance
- A frustrated student throwing a book at your head
- Finding out the parent of a student passed away the previous night
- A diabetic student having a blood sugar emergency while at recess
- Reading emails from a parent demanding you change her child’s grade and threatening “you’ll be sorry” if you don’t
- Having your math lesson interrupted by an active shooter drill, which no one in your class (including you) knows is just a drill until completion, causing one student to have a full-blown anxiety attack and another to require their rescue inhaler
- Walking into the faculty lounge to overhear other teachers talking poorly of your classroom management skills
- Noticing marks on a child’s arms (again) and the child opening up to you about abuse
- Calling in a report of the abuse to child protective services
- Breaking up a physical alteration between two students
And that could all be in a single day – maybe even before lunch! So, yes, most teachers would certainly consider their job to be “beyond a typical stressor.”
Types of post-traumatic stress disorder
Teachers are at risk for two different types of PTSD. As demonstrated in the list above, teachers often have suffered events from both categories.
- Firsthand trauma: Unfortunately, teachers experience traumatic events at school. School shootings (or threats), violent students, aggressive parents, bullying administration, death of a student or faculty member, and toxic work environments are just a few of the situations that may lead to PTSD in teachers.
- Secondary trauma: You can also develop PTSD from hearing about the trauma someone else has endured. Teachers care so much about the wellbeing of our students, which makes us very likely to suffer from secondary trauma after hearing a student share the details of abuse, the death of their parent, a devastating house fire, etc.
Do you have PTSD symptoms?
While PTSD is treatable, it is also very serious. It can make it difficult to function both personally and professionally. Physical health, relationships, mood, and quality of life are often impacted. People with PTSD are more likely to attempt suicide.
Here are some common symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing the trauma – Experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, and frequent thoughts of the trauma.
- Avoidance of and numbness to the trauma – Avoiding places, people, and activities that remind you of the trauma or disconnecting when in those situations.
- Heightened reactions – Fireworks, loud movies, sudden movements, etc. startle you when they never have before. You have difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and frequently feel on edge.
- Changes in mood – Difficulty remembering the trauma, a negative view of self or the world, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, inability to feel happy, self-isolation, feelings of blame, guilt, shame, or fear.
What to do if you think you may have PTSD
If you or a teacher friend is struggling, there is no shame in getting help.
- Finding a good therapist to help you work through the trauma is key in recovery for most people. Psychology Today has a great directory of therapists to help you in your search. You can also get a referral from your primary care physician or insurance company.
- Limited time or energy? BetterHelp and TalkSpace provide online/text therapy at your convenience right from your phone.
- The Crisis Text Line will provide immediate support. Simply text HOME to 74141. Help is available 24/7.
We’re all living in a pandemic that has been going on for a year already. COVID-19 is a traumatic event by itself. It makes sense that mental health struggles are on the rise right now. For many, it has caused symptoms to be more extreme and challenging. This makes getting help even more important.
Come join us in the Empowered Teachers community for more discussions like this.