Mental Health amongst South African educators need a bigger spotlight

by Media Xpose

It’s no secret that educators in South Africa, like many educators around the world, face various challenges when it comes to their mental health. Mental health struggles among educators in South Africa can arise from a combination of personal, professional, and systemic factors.

These factors include a heavy workload, limited resources, trauma and violence, a lack of support, stigma and discrimination, and other personal factors. Many educators in South Africa do not have access to adequate support systems, including mental health services, counselling, and professional development opportunities. This lack of support can contribute to increased stress, isolation, and feelings of being overwhelmed, which can adversely affect their mental health.

“Our educators are not privy to any psychological assistance as mental health is not seen as a serious issue, however, in recent years, we have seen many educators leave the profession due to not being supported and paid enough,” said Optimi Classroom Managing Director, Aunyana Moloisane.

“However, we know that there is a stigma surrounding mental health issues in some South African communities and this may prevent educators from seeking help or disclosing their mental health struggles due to fear of judgment or repercussions. This can lead to untreated mental health issues and further exacerbate the challenges faced by educators,” he concluded.

In today’s classrooms, educators are also faced with heavy workloads due to large class sizes, lack of infrastructure, administrative tasks and responsibilities beyond teaching, such as dealing with behavioural issues, managing constant curriculum changes and meeting assessment requirements.

“Many schools in South Africa, especially those in underprivileged areas, lack adequate resources, including proper infrastructure, teaching materials, and support services,” said Moloisane. “And some educators work in communities that experience high levels of trauma and violence thanks to crime, poverty and social unrest.”

We don’t talk about the exposure to traumatic events and violence enough, and exposure to these lead to mental health challenges such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression among educators, as they may also be impacted by these events while trying to support their students. On top of this, educators, like anyone else, also have their own personal struggles and vulnerabilities that can impact their mental health, such as family issues, financial stress, and pre-existing mental health conditions.

It’s important to recognize that mental health struggles among educators in South Africa, or any other country, are complex and multi-faceted. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach that includes addressing systemic issues, providing adequate resources and support, reducing stigma, and promoting self-care and well-being among educators. Educators play a vital role in shaping the future of South Africa, and their mental health and well-being should be a priority to ensure they can effectively support the students they serve.

“Time is one of the biggest challenges, not only for teachers, but all people,” said Social Worker, Hilary van der Westhuizen. “And this poses as a challenge to set time aside for self-care or good mental health practice.”

Van der Westhuizen shared some tips for teachers to maintain good mental health and how they can get creative with the time they have.

  • Pay attention to how you spend your time between work and home. “It’s important to find time to decompress and reflect on the day by either listening to music, writing, reading or anything where you can switch off,” said van der Westhuizen.
  • Another key tip is to create healthy sleeping habits and making sure that you do things that aids a positive sleeping environment.
  • Movement is important and exercise doesn’t only mean going to the gym. Van der Westhuizen suggests stretching in between classes, stretching when you wake up in the morning, taking a walk, and make it fun by involving your class.
  • Set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Although this is hard for educators, try and avoid taking work home and try to disconnect from work during your personal time. It’s important to have time for yourself and engage in activities outside of work to recharge and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • And finally, self-regulation is very important, and has an impact on how educators could respond to their colleagues and learners.

Preventing mental health issues in education requires a collaborative effort among schools, educators, parents, students, and policymakers. Teachers carry a lot on their shoulders in and outside the classroom. By promoting mental health awareness, providing access to mental health services, fostering a positive school environment, training educators, involving parents, prioritizing student well-being, and implementing supportive policies, we can create a holistic approach to prevent mental health issues in education.

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