Yesterday I saw a post in a social media group where a woman mentioned having severe burn out in her job. There was another who said she feels anxious all the time and is exhausted from work with over 100 likes from those just like her. These post happen everyday. Want to know what they have in common? They are all TEACHERS.
Teachers often get a bad wrap because they get Christmas break and summers off, some say a glorified babysitter.What you don’t see is the classroom full of kids that aren’t their own but they love as if they were, who are suffering through traumas that we can’t control. On top of the fact that they are desperately trying to teach all these different learning styles everyday, they are building them into caring, capable, and responsible citizens. Sometimes against their will and under the threat of harm. Now lets add in a pandemic. Juggling online and face to face students, making sure both are engaged and having meaningful learning while praying to God that their mask and Lysol body spray will keep them safe.
Have I made my point yet, naysayers? The stress is tremendous and so many are suffering, thinking its just another case of burn out. The reality is that they could be experiencing a mental health crisis called Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is STSD?
Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common occurrence in healthcare workers and is also known has Compassion Fatigue. It happens when you are repeatedly exposed to secondhand trauma (like constantly helping our students through their traumas). It can mimic many of the systems of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder according to the Administration for Children and Families. Secondary Stress Disorder is the little sneakier brother of Post Traumatic Stress. It can disguise itself for many as ‘burn out’ or even depression. The symptoms lay out across a spectrum and include anxiety through manifestation of physical ailments, all having a greater severity then just ‘burn out’.
An article published by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America (Hydon, et al. 2015) studied STSD in educators after Hurricane Katrina noted that the effects of this disorder on educators can be “devastating and debilitating”. This study also noted that a huge indicator of STSD is “personnel pushing themselves too hard to get things done and doing it all on their own”. Sound familiar? I have a feeling that a lot of teachers are nodding their heads right now.
What can be done?
The first step is getting proper diagnosis from a mental health worker. Another huge one that has been talked about everywhere, is self care. Put a pause on the eyeroll. Self care doesn’t have to be a vacation (though that would be nice) but it does need to allow you to refocus and refresh. Find an activity that lets you take your mind off work, students, and pretty much everything else. Something that you can enjoy and feel refreshed after. Nothing comes to mind? You should check out my post on easy ways and ideas to incorporate self care into your busy life.
Since isolation and depression is a hallmark of STSD, finding and sharing support can make a world of difference. There is more value in your group of teacher friends and margarita Saturday than you know. They can play a huge part in your recovery. Talk with them, bond together, and support each other through these shared experiences. The Department of Education also has a professional development for schools that focuses on Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Educators. If you happen to be an administrator reading this, then I urge you to consider it for your staff.
There has been a lot of focus on the trauma that bullying, poverty, and now the pandemic places on students. This is a fantastic development. I don’t know a teacher that isn’t cheering for our kids mental health issues to get the recognition they deserve. The point is to shed light on the affect these traumas have on educators and to plead that their health not be placed on the back burner. We are excellent multitaskers so lets take care of both students and staff.
My opening reeks of disillusionment and dissatisfaction but the truth is that most teachers absolutely love their job. I, like some many others, got into teaching because it was and is my calling. It is fulfilling in an indescribable way and honestly cherish my students. This passion drove me to write this post. It is seeing wonderful teachers leave the profession in mass because they are overwhelmed by these very feelings. I had to do something so I’m doing the thing I do best, teaching.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. I’m hoping this gave some teachers a little bit of power by giving a name to the enemy we’ve been fighting far too long. I urge my fellow educators to take control of your life and your happiness, advocate for you and your students, and get the help you need. This too shall pass. In the meanwhile, take solace in knowing that you are not alone and you have me rooting for you all the way through this. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
Administration for Children and Families, Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder https://www.acf.hhs.gov/trauma-toolkit/secondary-traumatic-stress
Hydon, Stephen, MSW, Wong, Marleen, PhD, Langley, Audra K., PhD, Stein, Bradley D., MD, PhD, & Kataoka, Sheryl H., MD, MSHS. (2015). Preventing Secondary Traumatic Stress in Educators. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 24(2), 319-333.