Teacher Burnout and Depression
Why would anyone want to become a teacher in today’s environment? New testing standards have put immense pressure on these professionals, and their financial incentive is miniscule compared to the workload. Even public support for educators has dwindled. Teachers work long hours, deal with student misbehavior, and go to great efforts to complete administrative paperwork. With so much going against them, it’s no wonder that teaching has the highest burnout rate of any public sector job.
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A More Serious Problem
An even more serious problem exists, however, than teacher burnout. In a study conducted by City College of New York, psychologists have identified a link between burnout and depression. Among the 5,500 study participants, 90% exhibited symptoms of depression. More alarming, the researchers found that 63% of participants met criteria for atypical depression, a subtype of major depression, often called dysthymic disorder. The implications for teacher burnout are serious, and teachers are not the only professionals to suffer from this stress.
The medical profession is rife with burnout. From nurses to medical residents, becoming personally invested with patients’ lives can be devastating if medicine doesn’t work. One such group that is most at risk for burnout is transplant surgeons. This group works in a highly stressful environment. The Henry Ford Transplant Institute study found that transplant surgeons suffer serious consequences of burnout, including low sense of personal performance (50%) and emotional exhaustion (40%). As with many professions, events outside the control of the surgeon can negatively impact personal success. Fortunately, the study also found that more co-worker support led to less burnout.
What is burnout and how does it happen?
Burnout is a form of emotional exhaustion that can lead to a poor sense of achievement. It is a depersonalization in a highly personal job. Highly stressful professions require people to maintain certain coping mechanisms to handle the pressures. Burnout occurs when those coping mechanisms break-down, leaving the individual mentally, emotionally, and even physically depleted. Dr. Martin Haberman, professor emeritus of curriculum and instruction at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says that burnout takes place when “teachers remain as paid employees but stop functioning as professionals”.
A part of the depersonalization of teachers is the lack of boundaries between home and work. It is no secret that teachers spend an exorbitant amount of time planning and grading on their own time. In addition to time, they spend much of their own money on school supplies and supplemental materials. This intrusion into their personal lives creates a tiring and burdensome trend. Time and money spent on students could be time and money spent on their own families. Further, this issue undermines a teacher’s identity as a professional, separate from their personal lives. Researchers in Stockholm have recently discovered that “work-home interference” is a major risk for burnout.
Aside from struggling with depression, burnout can cause a number of health issues. Of course, depression, on its own, can severely damage a person’s well-being.
How can it be prevented?
Psychology professor Irvin Schonfeld of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, one of the City College study’s researchers, warns that the link between depression and burnout has been “underestimated”. He suggests that information about depressive symptoms and disorders can help mental health and educational professionals identify burnout. Additionally, current treatments for clinical depression can assist teachers facing burnout.
Employers should take precautions against overly exerting their employees, particularly with regards to respecting their private lives. Although it may be impossible to tell a teacher not to work at home, it may be viable to provide unencumbered time throughout the day to plan or grade. School districts can parcel out workdays for teachers, free from meetings. Building administrators can create a more streamlined method for requiring and submitting state-mandated paperwork. They can also limit the number of extracurricular duties for teachers.
“It is also important for the employee themselves to develop self-regulation strategies to [counter] negative spillover of work at home,” urges Dr. Victoria Blom of Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm. A balance must be met, and the professional can protect him or herself from the harmful factors of burnout.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Atypical Depression Symptoms, Treatments, and Diagnosis. (2014, February 8). Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/atypical-depression
City College of New York. (2014, December 15). Psychologist links burnout, depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 7, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141215185316.htm
Haberman, M. (2004, January 1). Teacher Burnout in Black and White. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://www.habermanfoundation.org/articles/pdf/teacher burnout in black and white.pdf
Henry Ford Health System. (2014, July 28). Burnout impacts transplant surgeons.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 8, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140728094419.htm
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. (2014, April 4). Work-home interference contributes to burnout. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 7, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140404135854.htm
Scott Williams, C. (2011, November 3). THE Journal. Retrieved January 8, 2015, from http://thejournal.com/articles/2011/11/03/teacher-burnout.aspx
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