COLUMBIA - The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) conducted the 2021 Missouri Educator Wellness Survey, asking more than 2,800 Missouri educators questions about their emotional well being in the classroom. 

Results from the survey include: 

  • 51% say they consider leaving the profession often or very often
  • 47% almost always feel overwhelmed
  • 54% almost always feel exhausted
  • 83% frequently or almost always feel stressed
  • 62% say this year is more stressful than last year
  • 74% say their work is quite or extremely meaningful
  • 26% say they’re quite or extremely satisfied in their jobs

The pandemic is responsible for a large portion of stress, anxiety and depression, according to clinical neuropsychologist and mental health practitioner Dr. Lauren Schwarz.

Dr. Schwarz explained the levels of anxiety and depression are dramatically increasing across all professions.

"If you look at CDC data nationally, for you know, anyone from 18 to upper 30s, that depending on the day that you look at it, the symptoms of depression and anxiety have increased almost three times,” Dr. Schwarz said. 

Dr. Schwarz suggested the increase in anxiety came in waves. 

“Think of this as an evolution of the pandemic," Dr. Schwarz explained. "So at the beginning part, when we first started all of this, it was one of anxiety, of the unknown. This was when a lot of schools were virtual. We didn't even really know what was gonna happen. So initially, it was an increase in anxiety, fear for all of us."

Anxiety increased when people began to reemerge into the community.

“People are getting vaccinated. We know we can wear masks and so then it sort of evolved into talking about what his reemergence looked like. So sort of the reemergence anxiety, and then also, dealing with now the aftermath of all that we've been socially isolated. How do we now deal with being around humans when we haven't in a while?” Dr. Schwarz said.

Mark Jones is the communications director for the Missouri National Education Association (MNEA). Jones said teachers are struggling due to working conditions.

"The working conditions that you're in, and a lot of educators are finding themselves burdened with more and more, whether they would consider 'non-classroom' requirements that don't impact the students, but are rather more about red tape and bureaucracies, which is standardized testing and things like that,” Jones said.   

But the pandemic and COVID-19 has only intensified stress on teachers. 

“So there's a lot of contributing factors that existed prior to COVID-19. Then add all the stresses that every family is experiencing with COVID-19. A lot of times we forget educators have families too. And so all of those stresses families are feeling, educators are feeling that plus, what's happening in our schools,” Jones said. 

Educational organizations across the state are holding the 3rd Annual Wellness Symposium from Dec. 6 and 7, to discuss topics regarding wellness in schools.

Over the two days, educators attended multiple breakout sessions that will help bring attention and resources to a wide range of the issues that educators are facing.

The symposium will continue on Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Stoney Creek Hotel in Columbia. 

Dr. Schwarz will speak at the symposium on Tuesday to give advice on how to implement a wellness program to schools and administrators. Dr. Schwarz advised that it is important to conduct a survey and ask educators what they need. 

“Is it that you want us to bring mental health talks here? Do you want more access to therapy? It really depends on the needs of the specific group that you're working with. So that's how you start a wellness program, you have to do an initial assessment, and then you go from there,” Dr. Schwarz said.

Wellness is not just counselors but rather a structure with multiple layers, Dr. Schwarz explained. 

“So there's different domains to wellness. There's physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and social, so you have to think about where is it that the wheel has become off-kilter,” Dr. Schwarz said.

For schools and administrators to successfully implement resources and a wellness program that will help its staff, it must be broad, Dr. Schwarz said.

“So I think these wellness programs have to keep that in mind that they're that not there's not a one size fits all model for wellness, the offerings that schools have need to be diverse," Dr,. Schwarz said. "Their needs to be nutrition, fitness, mental health, physical health, intellectual things outside of school. It has to be all encompassing."

Wellness goes beyond just teachers. 

“It's not just schools. I think what it's saying is that the foundation of everyone that is providing frontline services in this country right now needs to have a structure in place for wellness for their employees, regardless of if it's a nurse, it's a physician, it's a teacher, it's the same thing,” Dr. Schwarz said.

To view the complete educator wellness report, visit the MSTA website.

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