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Schools need more mental health support, study says

A recent study on teacher and student wellness found 55 percent of teachers are handling student wellness concerns themselves.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The University of South Carolina and three other schools recently conducted a national survey on teacher and student wellness. 

Of the roughly 2,100 teachers that responded, almost half said they’re noticing mental health issues in students more often than before the pandemic. 55 percent said they’re handling student wellness issues themselves.

"Every six in 10 teachers reported that their students’ trauma and wellness concerns caused them personal levels of distress," said researcher and associate professor at USC, Dr. Aidyn Iachini.  "And [teachers] really talked about how it negatively impacted their social, emotional, psychological well-being from worrying about their students and families and their safety, worrying about their own family's health and safety."

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Iachini, along with other researchers, conducted this survey to shine light on the psychological toll the pandemic is taking on teachers and their students.

"For those schools who already have school mental health professionals – folks like school social workers, psychologists – I think the biggest thing is having them reach out to teachers," said Iachini. "Teachers are not necessarily trained in all aspects of mental health," so Iachini argues counselors could help them understand when to reach out for help.

The study says teachers who had mental health training from their schools were more likely to handle stress better, effectively teach students that live with adversity, and know how to handle student wellness concerns.

Richland School District One, for example, said they have a contract with Columbia Area Mental Health to help identify students in crisis. They added that their school counselors host regular workshops on self-care for students and staff, including ones specifically on pandemic related stress.

The district also has an employee assistance program for teachers in need of counseling.

Out of South Carolina’s 1,269 public schools, the Department of Education says there are 2,276 school counselors, 559 psychologists and 223 social workers. The state agency added that over 800 schools have services through the Department of Mental Health.

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The study gave recommendations for teachers to alleviate stress like reaching out to school administration for help, knowing the school’s mental health resources for students and practicing self-care.