Teacher Wellbeing Matters for Student Mental Health

Teacher’s personal wellbeing plays a role in students’ mental health outcomes, suggests a new study.

Jessica Janze
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A new study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is one of the first to examine the association of teacher wellbeing and depression on students’ wellbeing and psychological distress. Results of the large mixed-methods design found higher teacher wellbeing to be associated with higher student wellbeing and lower student psychological distress. Lower teacher wellbeing, or presence of teacher depression, was associated with poorer student wellbeing and higher psychological distress among students.

“Positive mental health and wellbeing during adolescence are associated with positive social relations, the development of a healthy lifestyle, reduced risk of adverse socioeconomic outcomes, psychiatric disorders, self-harm, and suicide in later life. Therefore, it is important to identify risk factors for poor mental health among this age group,” write the investigators, led by Sarah Harding, a researcher at the Bristol Medical School.

Focus on school mental health and wellbeing has been steadily increasing over the last few decades in the US. Despite the focus on increased physical activity, social-emotional learning, and mindfulness interventions focused on students, little attention has been given to the role of teacher wellbeing on student mental health outcomes.

“Teachers themselves are consistently reported to be at increased risk of common mental health disorders compared to those in other occupations. Poor teacher wellbeing may be problematic not only for teachers’ longer-term mental health but also for that of their students,” write Harding and colleagues.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

While it may go without saying that supportive student-teacher relationships are associated with better student outcomes, and it may be well known that students that have a more positive relationship with their school experiences will likely benefit psychologically, how teachers’ individual wellbeing affects this interaction has been understudied. The current study aims to investigate the effects of teachers’ wellbeing and mental health on their students.

“Although these are possible explanations for any associations that exist, it is also possible that an association would be due to shared features of the school environment impacting on the wellbeing of both. Thus, school-level factors are included as potential confounders,” the researchers explain.

In one of the first examinations to look at the link between teacher and student wellbeing, 3,216 students and 1,182 teachers were recruited from the WISE project, a cluster of randomized controlled trials from middle schools in England and Wales. Participants completed measures assessing wellbeing, psychological distress, depressive symptomology, teacher-student relationships, teacher presenteeism, and confounding factors.

Results of the extensive cross-sectional data set suggest that higher teacher wellbeing is linked to lower student psychological difficulties and higher wellbeing. The study confirmed previous research emphasizing the importance of positive teacher-student relationships on student wellbeing. Further, the study showed teacher presenteeism and absences might be mediating factors in this relationship.

“A potential explanation for this association is that students who have a better relationship with their teachers may have higher levels of connectedness and belongingness with their school, which has previously been associated with higher levels of student wellbeing.”

This study provides strong evidence for emphasis to be placed on teacher wellbeing when concerned for student outcomes. While interventions for students may prove useful to bolster positive results, it may be essential to pay attention to the role teachers’ wellbeing plays on these interventions as well.

“The results reported here indicate that the quality of teacher-student relationships may partially explain the association between teacher wellbeing and student psychological difficulties: teachers with poor wellbeing may be less able to develop supportive relationships.”

 

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Harding, S., Morris, R., Gunnell, D., Ford, T., Hollingworth, W., Tilling, K., … & Campbell, R. (2019). Is teachers’ mental health and wellbeing associated with students’ mental health and wellbeing? Journal of affective disorders242, 180-187. (Link)

12 COMMENTS

  1. School mental health needs to be far more than trauma informed schools, mindfulness and teacher self-care. Teachers deeply know that school mental health includes (in no particular order) experiencing lock downs that are realistic and unannounced, teaching 35+++ kids while lacking adequate furniture, teaching in 55 degree classrooms in winter, and 90 degree classrooms in late spring.

    Those who surveyed the mental health of teachers somehow failed to survey the strikes and actions that teachers have engaged in. Perhaps they are interrelated? How NOVEL!

    Do your homework. I’m a retired teacher so…

    1- First, look up American Federation of Teachers/Badass Teachers Association Quality of Work life Survey 2015. In three sentences, identify three top reasons for teacher stress. We can give you many more, such as the high rate of bullying/harassment for teachers with disabilities and the LGBT community. Then there are urban vs rural issues, seasoned vs new teacher differences and so many more.
    2- Then look up AFT/BATs visit USDOE July 2015. We brought these truths to the USDOE four YEARS ago. Grass roots!
    3- Then look up the AFT/BATs educator quality of Work life survey we conducted in 2017. With NIOSH.
    4- Did I mention suicides? We started our work in November, 2014, after four teachers died of suicide in under 10 days. Strangely (?), while there are suicide rates for dentists and veterinarians and attorneys… there seem to be no awareness that teachers die from suicide.
    5- How many of you work in places where (a) warmth and compassion are the trademarks of your job- as it is for teachers… yet (b) politicians would hope you’d carry a gun to shoot and kill the intruder who enters your classroom?
    6- Workplace Bullying and harassment are very real. Until the REALITY of work environments are seen just as clearly as the myopic vision of “mental health in education” we will only be putting bandaids on abscesses.

    If you truly care about education and mental health, see what Badass Teachers Association has been doing since 2013. The work our Quality of Work life team has accomplished via two surveys … is now an integral part of cutting edge work on teacher stress.

    It’s not depression. It’s demoralization, mostly.

  2. Excuse me, but: “Participants completed measures assessing wellbeing, psychological distress, depressive symptomology, teacher-student relationships, teacher presenteeism, and confounding factors.”

    Other than what kind of a “science” is “symptomology” and what is “presenteeism?”

    What exactly “confounding factors” ? I don’t think I’m presumptuous in saying that what ISN’T looked at is if there’s a teacher who is HONEST enough to admit that they are depressed, and in doing so actually teaches or expresses such truths, whether there’s am improvement in students also daring to express and be honest about emotions. And then this isn’t seen as a disease but looked into further, and what kind of engagement with others and society that engenders. Someone who is allowed to be honest about their emotions is going to tap into a whole other awareness, and won’t be bouncing around sailing on the exploitation of consumer oriented resources that “happiness” is associated with and judged by. A teacher that shows an honest relationship with their emotions, is this going to be valued? A teacher that maintains an image of happiness and then actually is going along with an image rather than the flux of emotions that might be true happiness when it emerges, I think that the school system is going to see that as happiness, domesticated and tamed, the backup needed as seduction would someone dare to allow more freedom. Someone that is embracing a natural response, and sharing that, and being human, and then also exhibiting how such honesty towards simply allowing himself or herself to be human: to feel depression, to be open about it, and then engage with the solutions they find through such honesty; is that accepted in formal education? Or do you end up with teachers and students that exhibit a sterilized form of compliance not causing problems with the system, and thus are seen as “happy”?

    Simply not looking at or valuing what truly happens when a person is ALLOWED to not behave in a manner that’s considered mentally healthy, and how that might embrace the human condition more, enhancing individuality rather than conformity, isn’t that already quite confounding? Certainly by a system that has shown that it values disabling the mind from expressing dissent, and does this through a pharmaceutically induced chemical imbalance fraudulently advertised as treating an alleged chemical imbalance not proven to have been there, while the treatment has conclusively proven to cause chemical imbalance.

    Yeah, I understand, the link you get when you press on “mental health” says, for example: “Results reflect moderate to strong evidence in support of the non-pharmacological school-based interventions reviewed in the study, all of which been shown to have a meaningful, positive impact on mental health and often academic outcomes.” But why is that even mentioned? What that says is that criteria for judging mental heath based on an alleged biological disease, when not involved with advocating or forcing individuals on treatment that has been proven to cause biological disease that’s known rather than alleged, that this doesn’t cause what such treatment has been proven to cause rather than treating an alleged disease that hasn’t been proven to exist. You still haven’t dealt with cause and effect other than not quite being so much the cause. Is someone not being able to adapt to judgments of being mentally healthy or not going to be allowed to express the truths he or she found that he otherwise wouldn’t have did he or she maintain what because of prior judgement be perceived as a “healthy” state? And being seen as “healthy” could have meant having natural brain functions disabled with “mental health” pharmaceuticals causing true biological disease, so that he or she couldn’t understand the dissent his or her brain was expressing.

    I get simply just incredibly DIZZY trying to say anything about this, because someone that expresses confusion, dissent, unhappiness, inability to adapt to an environment that doesn’t acknowledge their experience or WHAT HAVE YOU that’s found disturbing to accepted comfort, and expresses that with a NATURAL brain function they DO NOT have a disease as little as the effects of global warming, or pollution, or poverty, or discrimination or ANY OF THAT are symptoms of a disease the planet or the human condition has. And yet you’re talking about symptoms of “mental illness” rather than a sensitivity that has experienced or is aware of things that need to be acknowledged for truth to come out.

    Even the depth of psychosis. “Oh ha ha ha, so and so dared to take their clothes off in public,” as if the sight of a naked person is some sort of poison. This still expresses something beyond a “disease.” Go do it. Take your clothes off in public, get arrested an put in an asylum, and see how paranoid and alarmed people respond to something totally non violent, and see how you’re not allowed and certainly not encouraged to express or acknowledge that. In fact I wouldn’t even call paranoia towards psychosis crazy, because being psychotic has more sensitivity than such “normal” paranoia.

    And the rest of the links lead to articles all talking about symptoms and prevention. But where is there talk turning around this need to go on labeling normal human responses as symptoms rather than concrete effects.

    Someone who lives in a toxic environment and is effected by that (whether it’s emotional, physical or discriminatory toxicity), their expression of the results is NOT a symptom, it’s an effect. There’s no “disease” going on. They don’t need to be told as introduction to how to respond to what’s going on that the effect means there’s something wrong with them rather than their environment. That they can learn to deal with it is another thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on. Learning to deal with oppression and over come it is not recovering from a disease. It’s not an alleviating of symptoms, and it’s not an intervention accomplished by people treating a “disease.”

    Sorry, but this approaches saying that all of the women who could be seen as expressing symptoms of “mental illness” during the times when they were subjugated to being a possession of their husband — and it wasn’t acknowledged in collective consciousness that this was oppressive — that it’s more important to judge them as not showing “symptoms” than to acknowledge it’s abusive to turn a woman into a possession. And I really don’t see judging of symptoms or not as making the changes that have occurred, and are still highly needed.

  3. “Teacher Wellbeing Matters for Student Mental Health,” why is this statement considered “science” or “news?”

    And the “mental health” workers have been utilizing the teachers to target and drug up our children, so are they now wanting to target the teachers, too?

    Get the DSM deluded out of the schools! They’ve run amok, to the point that they even want to drug the well behaved and intelligent children, because they get 100% on their state standardized tests. The DSM deluded have lost their minds with their unchecked and undeserved power. The DSM deluded want to drug America’s best and brightest children, merely because they are intelligent. WTF!

  4. As an aspiring teacher I have a lot to say about that. I didn’t see anything in the article about recognition of the institutional hierarchy and bullying that takes place in school workplaces. Teachers are under immense pressure. They are threatened and discredited by their administrations. It is pretty bad out there.

    • And in too many cases, that bullying is passed on down to the kids, who then pass it on to the lower status kids among the group. Bullying doesn’t start with kids, it starts with adults mistreating each other and then mistreating the kids in their charge.

    • Not only do I totally agree with you, I posted a lengthy comment DAYS ago that is still “awaiting moderation”(?)

      When “researchers” plan ‘research’ using only part of the picture – as here… teachers’ “well-being” and student “mental health” while tacitly ignoring all the exceedingly real factors that lead to the presence of absence of a teacher’s “well-being” (the demoralization that comes from working amidst violence, poverty, testing that has no correlation to needed skills, workplace bullying, harassment..,) not only is the “research” invalid, it’s not even looking at education concerns evident now for probably 100 YEARS.

      “Well-being” and “mental health” are not vacuous end products. They are the sums of very concrete realities that seasoned teachers have now brought to large marches, strikes and other actions to draw attention to what this country is doing to its own children.

      Start creating “research” that measures the realities as school communities experience the school as center for work and learning. What about the Quality of Work life? It’s been surveyed (2015) and researched now (2017) by Badass Teachers Association and AFT. Start asking relevant questions (such as “why do teachers leave the teaching profession?”).