Mental Health Matters: Educators’ mental health worsened by pandemic – UNM Daily Lobo

What used to be the stable field of education is now revolving around uncontrollable and unknown factors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and educators are suffering because of this. A mental health pandemic lies at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic as educators have been dealing with an increased amount of mental health issues.

“Teachers’ jobs — stressful even before the pandemic — have become even tougher, with longer work hours, struggles to engage students remotely, repeated pivots from hybrid to remote to in-person instruction, not to mention fears that they — or their loved ones — could get COVID-19,” Education Week reported.

The pandemic brought a forced mix of personal and professional lives when teaching in a remote, online environment, according to Tracey Briggs, supervisor of Employee Wellness at the University of New Mexico.

“You can’t separate your two lives. You’re working and you’re living your personal life in the same place … It’s a huge responsibility to be doing so many things at once. It’s tough to try to fulfill two jobs,” Briggs said.

Elon News Network reported that many professors have suffered from abrupt transitions to virtual education formats. Elon University professor C.J. Fleming said “it’s like being a new professor every semester.”

“Fleming — who specializes in clinical psychology and mental health — said she has noticed two main things when considering professors’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: fatigue and capacity for working memory,” Elon News Network reported. “She said fatigue is probably what has affected her most, since she has had to reformat many of her consistently taught classes to fit an online or hybrid format.”

For every COVID-19 death, research from the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that nine people are left mourning. In addition, the pandemic has left many with losses of time and experience as well, according to Student Health and Counseling case manager Margaret White.

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“You don’t really get over it so much as you learn to walk forward with it,” White said at the start of the semester.

Briggs said the investment that staff and faculty have in their students can be especially wearisome during the pandemic as everyone experiences so much stress.

“There’s such an investment made not only by the faculty but the staff that want to see these young people go out into the world and make a difference. So that creates a lot of pressure, a lot of stress, because you want them to do well and it kind of rests on your shoulders to see that happen,” Briggs said.

Employee Wellness offers personalized programs for different departments as well as one-on-one consultations. The department also sends out their LoboWell newsletter weekly, which has content on “nutrition, fitness, well-being, financial and positivity.” More articles can be found on UNM’s Human Resources webpage as well.

Briggs’ guided meditations can also be found on the HR page, which range in both time duration and topics so people can easily choose what best fits their schedule or interest.

“We are here to make the experience from the minute you sign the acceptance letter at UNM to be an employee … through to the last day of work, when you retire, the very best, valued experience during your life cycle in your career as possible,” Briggs said.

The department recently created and launched Working with Positivity, a free 12-week workshop for UNM benefits-eligible staff, faculty and more. The ongoing program has 30 participants and hopes to accept more in the spring.

Employee Wellness also offers physical challenges, such as the annual Stadium Stair Challenge where individuals can climb the over 1,600 stairs of University Stadium. Briggs said research has shown that there are ties to physical and mental health supporting one another.

“I just know that even in my own personal life, what I’ve done in the last 35 years of being physically fit, it has helped my emotional well-being, especially at times when I’m super stressed. It’s a great way to release that stress and focus on just letting things go,” Briggs said.

There should be no stigma for getting mental health help, according to Briggs. She said it should be as normalized as going to a doctor with a sprained ankle.

“We have forever changed the landscape of our lives with this pandemic so we have to acknowledge that there may be some residual effects of going through it. And recognize that you can and you really should seek any kind of support that helps you,” Briggs said.

Briggs brought up a variety of resources available on campus, including Counseling, Assistance and Referral Services, UNM Health Sciences Center Wellness, UNM Hospital Well-Being, UNM Wellness Alliance, UNM’s Mental Health Resources webpage and more.

“There’s just so many different groups of individuals that work to make sure that the folks on campus are valued and taken care of,” Briggs said.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @fabflutist2716 

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