HOW TEACHERS CAN MAINTAIN THEIR MENTAL HEALTH IN A PANDEMIC LIKE COVID-19 AND ALSO RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS OF MENTAL HEALTH IN THEIR STUDENTS TO HELP THEM ACHIEVE EXCELLENT PERFORMANCE IN SCHOOL
The rapid spread of the coronavirus disease has resulted in a global pandemic that has claimed millions of lives thus far. Since COVID-19 became a pandemic, education has experienced drastic changes. The educational system has been impacted by being forced to adopt online remote learning to continue offering its services. Teachers are also not exempt from the reactions that stem from the emergence of an infectious disease outbreak. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Teachers’ hurdles, particularly those working in schools ridden in high poverty settings, have not been highlighted enough. Teachers put these students’ mental health and well-being needs ahead of their own and constantly monitor for signs such as trauma, anxiety, and bullying. However, they are learning how to discuss a lurking threat to their work; “Their mental health.”
The emotional atmosphere in a classroom setting is vital to the experiences of all students. That atmosphere is affected by the emotional stability of the teacher. A teacher with mental health problems can have a detrimental effect on all their students. It is thus essential to help teachers with emotional problems. This is not always an easy task, yet it is necessary if the teaching-learning environment is favourable.
To grasp their mental health, the first thing teachers have to address is to find an excellent way to decrease the stress and anxiety they feel as a result of the change in the mode of teaching by realizing there’s only much they have control over. Thinking constantly about their students, assessments, challenges and finding time to get it all done can play on your mind as a teacher. Being connected and “switched on” for most of the working week can leave you stressed and anxious without having time to relax, reflect and enjoy yourself, even on weekends.
When your mental health is dropping, the first thing to do is work on your diet and exercise. Studies show that exercising a few times a week for at least 30minutes can reduce depression by 20%. Diet is equally important. The body is like a car. If it is not provided with the correct fuel, it will not function optimally. Enjoy the sun, and be more active!
Switch off, make time for yourself
The hardest thing to do, but guaranteed to produce the best results, is to find a way to make a schedule that includes time for you to “switch off” This is doing something you love, something alone, or something where your mind is taken off your job. Sometimes, you might not need to read or reply to emails after hours but rest and recharge for school the next day. Also, if you can find a way to avoid screens such as phones, TV, and iPads in the last hour before bed, this will help massively. Read, listen to relaxing music and take it easy to put your mind into rest mode before getting at least 7 hours of sleep.
Make time to see your friends and family.
Teachers sacrifice so much for their career and their students that they neglect personal time with their friends and family. Make sure that you still make time to catch up and have fun with those that make you feel good.
Create a Vision Board
This method is ideal for those who want visual outlines of their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Your vision board is for you, and you can make it however you like. Visualize the teaching experience and life you want to have, and put it on the board to help remind you when you need it.
How Teachers can spot students with Mental Health Issues
After parents and guardians, teachers spend more time with children than anyone else. The time spent with them puts them in a perfect position to identify problems and help children solve them. Particularly with mental health, teachers are in the unique position of identifying, educating, and supporting students with mental health challenges. According to research, 1 in 6 school-aged children struggle with a mental health disorder; thus, knowing the signs of deteriorating mental health helps teachers intervene before the child’s mental health reaches dangerous levels.
Conditions such as depression, ADHD, eating disorders, substance use disorders and anxiety may start small and grow over time. More severe conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often begin in the late teen years. It is important to note that almost all mental health conditions are treatable.
If you suspect a student is struggling with a mental illness, look for the following symptoms
- Changes in sleeping habits, such as inability to sleep, or stay asleep, or oversleeping
- Overeating or undereating to the point ot impacting the physical health
- Changes in relationships or ability to maintain friendships
- Illegal use, misuse or over-use of alcohol, marijuana and other substances
- Changes inability to function at school or work
- Feelings of anger, hopelessness or severe anxiety
- Memories or mental images of past trauma
How can teachers handle these students effectively?
While teachers are an integral part of the process, there is no expectation that they are the whole solution to improving mental health in children. In many cases, teachers will need to refer them for professional support. The key here is to make appropriate recommendations even before children reach a stage where they need clinical support.
Facilitate mental health support in the classroom
Knowing what factors make a child more likely to develop a mental health condition can enable teachers to make adjustments in the classroom that can prevent conditions from developing further. The knowledge that a child has recently been through a significant transition like losing a parent can help you reduce the number of changes you make within the classroom that can contribute to their stress and anxiety.
Create a safe space to discuss mental health issues
While it may have lessened over the last few years, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. This can hold both adults and children back from talking about their struggles. Teachers need to continue this throughout the rest of the year so that students will be more likely to open up to colleagues and friends about mental health struggles and seek support.
Accommodations that teachers can give students with mental health issues include the following
- Private feedback on academic performance
- Extended time for test-taking and completing assignments
- Exams in an alternate format such as orally taken ones instead of essay ones
- Exams in a separate, quiet and non-distracting room
- Assign classmate as a volunteer assistant
- Substitute assignments in specific circumstances
Help students realize their self-worth is not based on grades. Mental well-being is just as important as academic performance. That should place a high priority on safeguarding their mental health.