Teacher Burnout: Is it Workplace Induced Depression?

‘If I’ve ever got any chance to move from this place, I will not think twice.’

Remarks like these, we always heard from a person who is completely stressed out from the place where he/she worked and unable to cope with the work pressure. Recently, many of my close and distant colleagues approach me and shared their stories, how they have been surviving since the lockdown, and many educational institutes over-nightly shifted to virtual teaching. While talking with them, I come to the point that employee usually frustrated and stressed due to two reasons, either workflow pressure or ‘a toxic work environment’ that makes an employee feel unwanted, uncomfortable and unappreciated.  However, the questions that are puzzling my mind is, what is the true nature of what it means to be burned-out? What to do when you don’t see a way out to your depression or burnout?

Some Cases of Recent and Traditional Burnouts

Teaching is the profession where teachers are expected to be perfect as the educator’s role is to educate the future minds of society. The expectations can be from school management to parents and can go to any length. For example; one of my colleagues shared that how his school emphasized to learn Edmodo virtual platform LMS in 3 days on his own as school was going on closure due to COVID-19. According to him, is it not fair that schools never thought to conduct even a single training session on virtual learning platforms (VLE) like Google Classroom or Edmodo prior to such emergencies? Similarly, one of my colleagues shared that her toxic and biased competitive workplace environment not only affected her peace of mind but also affected her health.  Seniors are kept governing the superior positions since ages, resulting in new employees, no matter what innovative ideas they bring to the table, never get promoted.

What is Burnout and When it Overlaps to Depression?

We often shared such miserable feelings when we see no way out of our misery. However, people who do not share their stress or keep suppressed their emotions behind a fake smile ended up in severe depression. According to one research, there is a significant overlap between burnout and depression. More specifically, educators experiencing burnout simultaneously exhibit depressive symptoms including, but not limited to, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, and fatigue. Overall, the higher the burnout symptoms, the more depressive traits they exhibit. Another research states that 90 per cent of participants who scored high on burnout met the criteria for a provisional diagnosis of depression.

Due to the limitations of these researches, researchers only be able to scratch the level where symptoms of burnout can be claimed as depression. One of the limitations of these researches is the temporary fixes that educators normally do to themselves.  For example, teachers usually believe summer vacations will re-energize them and cure their burnout symptoms. However, researchers claim that this rarely works as burnout symptoms generally re-emerge within 2-3 weeks of returning to work.

How to Address Educator Burnout

It is essential for schools to proactively address mental health issues in the workplace because, in some cases, not doing so can result in unintended consequences (e.g., ineffective teaching, teacher self-harm or suicide, etc.). The Psych Learning Curve suggests the following steps that school management should take to prevent and address teacher burnout.

  • Develop a supportive workplace culture around mental health issues. This is extremely important because research shows that at least one-third of workers don’t disclose mental health issues to their employers due to the stigma surrounding the topic.
  • Understand that organizational factors cause burnout. This is crucial because many believe burnout is teacher specific. Although some individuals are more susceptible to stress, placing the blame on teachers doesn’t address the root cause of burnout.
  • Examine the factors which contribute to educator burnout to mitigate their adverse effects. Note, addressing these factors doesn’t always mean exhausting financial resources. Some strategies include fostering better collaboration, implementing effective teaching strategies, and encouraging educators to develop work-life boundaries.
  • Proactively train all school members (teachers, administrative staff, public safety, etc.) on the warning signs of mental health issues and on how to provide proper assistance to someone experiencing a mental health concern. One training program which has favourable results is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Due to its effectiveness, cities like New York have already begun making the training readily available at no cost.

What to do when you don’t see a Way out?

I have no shame to accept the fact that the most neglected profession in today’s era is teaching. Even I considered it the most important, passionate and responsible job, not because I belong to that profession, but it is the truth. Because, no offence and no judging at all, I never heard in my life that a banker or the AVP of any company invest his/her own money to buy office stationaries and utensils. A teacher does it daily so the end product (students) cannot suffer due to lack of supplies.

Teachers, it is essential for you to analyse yourself first, where you lacked in today’s era. If school management failed to provide PD opportunities to you, fetch one by yourselves. Harvard-Ex, Coursera and there are multiple platforms where it offered millions of courses for every profession, including teaching. Technology inclusive classroom is the future of the teaching profession and if you think you are not good in it, do a short course in it. I recently completed six weeks course on Google classroom and now a trained professional on it from Coursera. Remember, nobody will guide you or tells you what to do in your life. When we teach self-reliance to our students, then it’s our job that first, we develop that skill and self-developed ourself.

I would suggest what I do when I feel burnout like any other teacher. Pick a pen and pencil, and start jotting down the answers to these questions:

  • When the last time you finished any PD course?
  • Where do you see in the next five years from now on at your school or educational institute?
  • Do a little research and based on your age and health, what ways available to you to professionally developed according to the present time?
  • How will it impact you and your personal life if you take one or two options from this list?
  • What sort of competitions are you facing at your work?
  • What kind of skillset do you need to compete with your rivals?
  • Do you think you can do better if you possess such skills?
  • How long are you in that school?
  • Do you have sufficient experience to move on to another place?

Good luck teachers 😊

One thought on “Teacher Burnout: Is it Workplace Induced Depression?

  1. Very well written, I would certainly agree with the major reasons of teacher burnout as mentioned. Also, the ideas to address such concerns at school are appreciable, yet very rare institutions actually deem the matter as genuine and strive for it. As per my observation, some schools have hired counselors for students and teachers to cope with the mentioned symptoms. Besides, citing the seniors’ positions and monopoly – I think the gap between seniors and juniors in every field including education sector can be filled through the modern technological tactics and continuous learning. Lastly, the self-analysis, and how one can locate the symptoms and endure it, are significant.

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