By: Jeff Nazzaro
It should come as no surprise to anyone at this point that the COVID-19 pandemic and the recurrence of mass shootings have significantly exacerbated mental health issues among our nation’s young students. A multitude of studies attest to this alarming development and in December of 2021, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning of a youth mental health crisis. In response, the number of school-based social workers and counselors has risen dramatically across the country, while President Biden, in his first State of the Union address, outlined plans to double the number of mental health professionals working in schools.
Teachers, of course, are the ones in the trenches day after day with these increasingly stressed-out young learners, the effects of which, on top of already low salaries failing to keep pace with inflation, and other factors, are taking their toll on their mental health. A new report from the RAND Corporation shows that teachers and administrators are twice as likely as the average working adult to report frequent job-related stress. It is also more likely they will say they are not coping with job-related stress and report symptoms of depression.
Among the major contributors to this, unsurprisingly, are “managing student behavior” and “supporting students’ mental health and well-being.” Around a third of the 15,000 Pre-K–12 teachers, administrators, school psychologists, and other staff surveyed by the American Psychological Association (APA) in March said they had been verbally harassed or threatened with violence by students at least once in the course of the pandemic.
“Teachers, of course, are the ones in the trenches day after day with these increasingly stressed-out young learners…”
While teachers hold down the fort waiting for reinforcements to arrive and conditions to improve, one viral TikTok’er is spreading timely advice through his “As a Former Pre-K Teacher, Watch What You Say Around Your Kids, Because They Come Back and Tell Us” series of videos that manage to be both amusing and insightful. In his “Mental Health Edition,” a Mr. Hills, known on TikTok as atxhills, shares tips for teachers both inside and outside the classroom to address mental health concerns.
Mr. Hills took a proactive approach to mental health in his classroom in a couple of ways. His Talk About It Thursdays gave each of his students a minute and a half once a week to get whatever they wanted off their chests, a sort of therapeutic show-and-tell session. He also set up a permanent Peace Corner in his classroom, with no pointy hat but rather soothing music and colorful picture books, where students who are feeling frustrated or angry can voluntarily take a time-out to calm down.
“Mr. Hills, known on TikTok as atxhills, shares tips for teachers both inside and outside the classroom to address mental health concerns.”
“We only have one life and one mind, so we have to take care of them both,” Mr. Hills reminds us before preaching to teachers a self-care mantra: “It’s OK to walk away.” Yes, the self-care advice has become so commonplace it has become irritating or stressful for many to hear in its own right, and much of that comes from a lack of much-needed institutional support; but a lot of it also stems from an American ethos that has drilled into us some version of “when the going gets tough the tough get going.” The brilliance of Mr. Hills’s simple advice is that “tough” is subjective and relative and “get going” can indeed carry a dual meaning. It can be literal or figurative, temporary or more permanent.
“It’s ok to walk away…”
“If something is not suiting your well-being, your mental health,” he says, “it’s OK to walk away. If that job is not doing it for you, it’s OK to walk away. If your child is throwing a tantrum, it’s okay to walk away.” As for what to do, the options are limitless, but the thing is to take the advice to heart and use the resources you have.
“If you have PTO, take that PTO,” Mr. Hills tells his followers. “Take that trip, take a bubble bath, go do that yoga. Whatever it is that brings you peace of mind, do it.”