Beyond the Blackboard: The Silent Struggle of Educators and Mental Health

Written by: Sabeeha Azmi

In the active and lively world of education, where the focus is often shined on shaping the minds of the next generation, the mental health and well-being of educators are easily overlooked and unnoticed. Teachers, lecturers, and other professionals within education play an essential role in moulding the future of our nations, but the demands and the pressure of their profession could take a toll on their mental well-being.

The field of teaching is a noble profession that requires dedication, passion, and resilience as educators are not only responsible for conveying knowledge but also for creating a supportive and positive learning environment. However, underneath the smiles and enthusiasm for educating young minds, professionals face constant pressure to meet academic standards, navigate administrative tasks, and engage diverse listeners which could all lead to developing and experiencing stress, anxiety, and burnout. These mental health concerns faced by educators are often a silent struggle as their needs often take a backseat when compared with their students and administrative duties and needs.

One of the main stressors educators face is the ever-increasing workload. Professionals endure long working hours, planning lessons, grading assignments, and tests, and planning and executing extracurricular tasks and activities which can leave them feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. There is also the pressure of having to adjust and adapt to new methods of teaching and technologies which further exacerbates their stress. Staying relevant and up to date in a continuously evolving educational field is quite a challenge.

Another contribution to educators’ mental health is the investment in the well-being of their students. Professionals aim to make a difference in the lives of their students and this can lead them to develop a heightened sense of responsibility. Hence, when students experience setbacks or challenges with learning, there is a chance that educators could internalise the impact of this which could then affect their own mental health and well-being. There is emotional labour involved in teaching and this can be draining and without appropriate support, professionals could find it difficult to cope with emotionally.

In general, society does not seem to give the appreciation and applause that teachers deserve. Educators, therefore, due to a lack of recognition for the time and effort they put into teaching could feel deeply undervalued and underappreciated. Education is a field that requires and demands continuous adaptation and learning. Thus not providing adequate support systems and sufficient resources to educators could seriously affect professionals’ mental well-being.

An educator’s emotional and mental well-being is essential to the quality of education they can provide. When educators’ mental health needs are met, they can better engage in an enriching learning environment that fosters creativity in their students. However, when educators are stressed and burned out, they could struggle to build connections and deliver effective lessons which could hinder the overall educational experience. Therefore, educational institutions must prioritise proactive measures to acknowledge and address the mental health and well-being needs of educators. Institutions should aim to create a supportive work culture, provide professional development opportunities, implement wellness programs, and recognize and appreciate the effort put in by educators. These could all foster a mentally healthy environment for educators, encourage open communication about mental health and reduce the stigma attached to seeking support for mental well-being.

Here are some tips for educators to take better care of their mental health and well-being:

  • Set realistic goals – it is important to note that you cannot do everything all at once. Focus on setting achievable goals and organise tasks according to priority to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Establish boundaries – set out clear boundaries for your work hours and personal time. With this, you can aim to avoid taking work home regularly, and allocate and clear some time for relaxation and self-care.
  • Have a self-care routine – take some time to build a self-care routine with activities that you enjoy such as reading, watching TV shows, or any hobbies. Engaging in these activities could help you recharge.
  • Professional community and seeking support – within your educational community foster a supportive network where professionals can share experiences which can create a sense of camaraderie and reduce feeling alone in your struggles.
  • Educators play a crucial role in shaping and nurturing the minds of the future, therefore, it is important to ensure that their mental health is not neglected. As the world strives to build a brighter future through education, it is essential to shine a light on the professionals who have poured their hearts and dedicated their lives into building a positive, well-rounded, and educated society of individuals.

Sri Lankan Education: Overcoming Taboos and Prioritising Mental Well-being

Written by: Pansiluni Hasanjana Weerawansa

In recent years, there has been a discernible global recognition of the crucial significance of mental health, an issue that has not spared Sri Lanka. Regrettably, the education system in this country has traditionally failed to accord due importance to mental well-being, relegating it to a topic steeped in societal taboos. The pervasive stigma surrounding mental health concerns in Sri Lankan schools remains a formidable obstacle.

The prevailing social stigma intensifies the reticence of individuals, families, and educational institutions to openly address these matters. Rather than recognizing mental health as legitimate medical conditions warranting professional assistance, they are often viewed as personal shortcomings or signs of weakness. Consequently, individuals grappling with psychological distress encounter isolation, discrimination, and compromised educational and occupational prospects.

Furthermore, Sri Lankan society’s cultural expectations prioritise academic accomplishments and adherence to societal norms, thus perpetuating an environment where mental well-being is frequently sidelined. The relentless pursuit of academic success, coupled with limited outlets for self-expression and emotional support, fosters a climate that poses significant threats to the mental health of young individuals.

It is imperative to address these multifaceted challenges comprehensively, ensuring that mental health receives the attention and care it deserves within Sri Lanka’s education system. By dismantling the prevailing stigmas, fostering a culture of understanding and empathy, and incorporating robust support mechanisms, we can begin to create an educational landscape that not only nurtures intellectual growth but also safeguards the psychological well-being of all learners.

The inadequate focus on mental health within the Sri Lankan education system carries far-reaching implications for the young generation. The prevailing stigma acts as a deterrent, dissuading individuals from seeking the necessary assistance. In the absence of robust support structures, students may experience a decline in their academic achievements, which, in turn, can engender sentiments of inadequacy, despair, and exacerbate the deterioration of their mental state. Consequently, the profound ramifications of this issue permeate various aspects of their lives, hindering their overall well-being and potential for personal growth.

Furthermore, the absence of mental health education and resources within schools deprives young people of crucial knowledge and skills to cope with stress, build resilience, and maintain their emotional well-being. Students are left ill-equipped to recognize and act on the signs of mental distress in themselves and their peers, perpetuating a culture of silence and isolation.

The consequences of unattended mental health concerns transcend the boundaries of the educational realm. Young Sri Lankans grappling with such challenges face heightened vulnerabilities, including self-harm, substance misuse, and the alarming specter of suicide. Compounding the issue is the lack of accessible mental health services, leaving many in dire need without the vital support and proper interventions provided by qualified professionals. Consequently, urgent attention is required to bridge this critical gap and ensure the well-being and safety of the youth population in Sri Lanka.

Breaking the taboo surrounding mental health in Sri Lankan education requires a multifaceted approach. Foremost, it is crucial to enhance consciousness and foster inclusive discussions regarding mental health among teachers, caregivers, and the broader society. An effective starting point involves initiating these open dialogues within educational settings, where conversations pertaining to mental well-being and constructive strategies for coping can be normalised. By creating a safe space within classrooms we can cultivate and nurture healthy attitudes towards mental health, ultimately cultivating a supportive environment conducive to the overall well-being of individuals.

Secondly, integrating mental health education into the curriculum is vital. Implementing comprehensive mental health modules within existing subjects will equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to prioritise their well-being. Moreover, fostering a supportive school environment, including the establishment of counselling services and mental health support networks, can create safe spaces for students to seek help and guidance without fear of judgement.

The disregard for mental health within the Sri Lankan education system bears profound ramifications for the holistic growth and prosperity of the nation’s young generation. Overcoming deeply entrenched cultural taboos and fostering a climate of heightened awareness are indispensable measures that must be taken. It is imperative to integrate comprehensive mental health education into the curriculum, thereby ensuring that students are equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate their own well-being. By prioritising mental well-being, Sri Lanka has the opportunity to empower its youth, enabling them to lead fulfilling lives, contribute meaningfully to society, and lay the foundations for a brighter future.