How to cope with First Year Teacher Depression?

In this guide we are going to discuss the common phenomenon of first year teacher stress and burnout induced depression. 

How to cope with First Year Teacher Depression?

If you are struggling with your first year as a teacher and experiencing stress related depression, you are not alone. Job related stress and mental health issues are very common with teachers.

Here are a few things you can do to cope with work related depression as a first year teacher:

  • Get professional help
  • Seek out support groups or support from your coworkers 
  • Get physical 
  • Take action
  • Set boundaries
  • Make lifestyle changes.

Key Findings from the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey found that teachers reported more frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than the general adult population.

The survey also found that this job-related stress was due to working conditions, resources, and the inability to maintain work life balance due to heavy work demands. 

Let us take a closer look at why teachers tend to struggle with stress and depression and what you can do to cope.

Burnout: Work induced depression

As mentioned above, teachers are found to experience more job related stress. An analysis by the National foundation for educational research also supports these findings. 

The analysis finds that teachers are more likely to suffer job-related stress than other professionals with One in five teachers feeling tense most of the time or all of the time as compared to other people with non-teaching positions.

Another survey finds that Teachers are twice as likely to experience frequent job-related stress and nearly three times as likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general adult population.

The impact of stress and work demands lead to burnout in teachers which has been closely linked to depression. Burnout has been defined as,

“…the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions.”

Though it had been limited to doctors and nurses who are constantly sacrificing themselves, it is now used for other professions and the unhealthy side of self-sacrifice in jobs. 

When it comes to teachers, their jobs are also highly self-sacrificing with many of them claiming that they are often stretched beyond their means to help their students.

The signs of burnout look very similar to depression symptoms and may even overlap. Major burnout signs include:

  • Exhaustion: if you are affected you might feel drained and emotionally exhausted, tired and down, and don’t have enough energy. 
  • You might even experience Physical symptoms like pain and gastrointestinal (stomach or bowel) problems.
  • You might experience alienation from (work-related) activities and find your jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. You might also increasingly distance yourself emotionally, and start feeling numb about your work.
  • You might start being cynical about your working conditions and your colleagues.
  • You might have negative thoughts and feelings about your tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity because of which you might even dread going to work.

Most educators experiencing burnout simultaneously exhibit depressive symptoms such as loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, and fatigue. The more burnout they are the more likely they could be depressed. 

Another study published to understand the overlap between burnout and depression finds that the majority of teachers that participated who were experiencing burnout also met the criteria for diagnosis of depression.

Unfortunately burnout is not a diagnosable disorder which makes it hard for professionals to treat the individual, teachers are often ill-advised to simply “take a break” or “go on vacation” with other self-help strategies which are unlikely to help when they get back to work. 

If you think you are depressed, with no energy or motivation to go to work as a teacher, it could be because you are burned out. It is important to understand what causes burn out so that changes can be made. 

Causes of Teacher Depression and Burnout

Various studies that have attempted to understand stress in teaching jobs have found that there is a significant link between job stressors and mental health issues amongst teachers. 

One such study finds that Teachers are exposed daily to job stressors such as student disruptiveness, extreme work demands and deadlines which have been linked to adverse mental health effects. 

The study also finds that teachers are at higher risk for exposure to workplace violence and hostility in their relationship with colleagues and student-teacher relationships.  

A brief on Teacher stress and health by the University of Pennsylvania found that the causes of high teacher stress, burn out, and poor mental health is not only linked to individual resilience. 

This brief highlighted that factors such as the lack of strong principal leadership, a healthy school climate and a collegial, supportive environment are also part of the problem

The brief also concluded that teacher stress and burnout is also linked to job demands that are escalating with high-stakes testing while teacher resources remain limited is only one causal factor. 

Other factors include student behavioral problems, difficult parents and Teacher Social and Emotional Competence to manage stress and nurture a healthy classroom

The fact is, it is not only the teacher’s lack of resilience that causes teacher stress, burnout, and mental health problems rather it is the working conditions they are pushed into. 

It is also the extreme stress, job demands that stretch these teachers to the brink, poor work resources and support, and the impact of being underpaid on their home and personal life. 

Let us take a look into what you can do to cope with work related depression and burnout.

Coping with Work related depression and burnout

Some of the things to cope with depression and burnout as a first years teacher include:

Getting professional help

It is important that you do not take your mental health struggle lightly, it is not “normal” to be stressed and tired all the time to the point where you cannot sleep well, eat well, and focus. 

While most teachers might think this stress is “part of the job”, there is no rule that you as a teacher cannot put yourself first. Putting yourself first is getting the help that you need. While you can make lifestyle changes on your own, if you do have depression or are severely burned out, it is likely that the issue will not go away on its own. 

Getting professional help can help you gain insight into why you are feeling depressed or burned out and can help you build treatment plans with the professional that you trust that can help you make your life better.

Seek out support

Seek out support from your family and your trusted friends by opening up about what you are going through and what they can do to help you. 

You can also disclose your struggle with fellow teachers and students in an attempt to destigmatize mental health issues, this can create a conclusive environment which can help garner support and awareness about this issue since burnout and depression can happen not only to teachers but also students. 

Get physical

It is important that you get started on improving your physical health but taking part in various activities that get you off your chair and moving. 

Running, paddle boarding, going for a walk with a teacher friend, doing aerobics, or yoga are only a few of the ways that you can get active which can result in higher spirits, healthier relationships, and less isolation.

Take action

As discussed, it is not only an individual problem but depression and burnout in teachers is also a result of ineffective systems within the workplace. 

While Taking action can be very scary and even seem impossible in some settings you and your colleagues can begin with a conversation about stress, teaching, and well-being. 

You and your colleagues as a team can talk with the administration to streamline better strategies to help you as a whole cope with stress so that the teachers are happy, students are healthy, and the schools performance as a whole improves. 

Set boundaries

While you are a teacher that believes in the well-being of your students, it can get to a point where you are sacrificing yourself by stretching your limits. There is only so much a person is humanely capable of.

Talking to a profession or taking a closer look at what boundaries are can help you acknowledge your own limitations without judgement and plan your life around it. Boundaries do not limit you but rather it can mark the space upon which you can grow and flourish. 

Identifying and setting your boundaries involves understanding and awareness of what you can and cannot do- emotionally and physically. It is about stepping back and letting go  when you know that holding on or pushing through- even if it is for your students or the administration- is only going to hurt you.

Building boundaries is not giving up or shutting people out. Rather it allows us to take stock of what we do have and what we can do to get better results rather than following tradition and old ways of being. 

Make Changes

When we talk about change we are talking about making changes in your lifestyle- the way you manage your time, your priorities, your balance between work, family, and you.

Make changes in ways that are feasible, small changes that can possibly have a big impact in the long run. For example, 15 mins of yoga in the morning, or a walk in the evenings. 

Make changes in your perspectives, about the world, you, your job, and others. Make changes in the way you think as you get ready for work, and the way you talk to your students. You cannot change them but you can change how you perceive them and that might make a difference. 

Change your career course. This can be a little extreme, a last resort option. But if you find yourself struggling mentally and physically it could be time that you step away from your role as a teacher- to try something else that can give you more satisfaction, or maybe take an extended break to rest and work on recovery, or to learn new skills to cope as a teacher. 

Conclusion

In this guide we discussed the prevalence of teacher realted stress, depression, and burnout along wth possible causes. We also discussed various coping strategies. 

Frequently asked questions related to “First year teacher depression”

Is the first year of teaching the hardest?

The first year of teaching is the hardest. While being an educator is never without its struggles, the first year is by far the most challenging — pieced together with idealism, confusion, good intentions, excitement, fear, and expectations. … Here’s what veteran teachers wish they would’ve known their first year.

How do I teach my first year how do you survive?

Here are some suggestions to help you have a fantastic first year in the classroom.

  1. Build Community. …
  2. Find Hopeful, Positive Mentors. …
  3. Ask for Help and Demand Good Professional Development. …
  4. Observe Other Teachers. …
  5. Do Home Visits. …
  6. Write Down Your Vision for Yourself as a Teacher. …
  7. Don’t Neglect Your Body.

Is teaching the most stressful job?

While teachers get automatic pay raises and long summer holidays, teaching is one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S. Teachers’ work duties extend well beyond the school day hours. … Although teachers may earn a comfortable income, most will never be able to amass wealth on their salaries.

Why do so many teachers quit?

Respondents cited pandemic-related stress, health concerns and a lack of child care for their own kids among reasons for wanting to leave the profession. Steiner adds that “Teaching was also a stressful occupation before the pandemic.”

Why are teachers treated so poorly?

The main reasons teachers walk away from their jobs is because of the poor working conditions, unreasonable demands, and unrealistic expectations they face every day. Collectively, these factors make the teaching profession unbearable for even the best educators.

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