Put on your own oxygen mask first: How school mental health professionals can banish burnout

School counselors and psychologists stand out among the unsung heroes of the pandemic and they continue to serve on the front lines of an unprecedented mental health crisis in K-12 classrooms.

Certainly, student mental health issues began long before the pandemic. The National Child Health Survey found that the proportion of children diagnosed with depression and anxiety increased by 24% and 27% respectively, between 2016 and 2019.

Since, mental health emergencies have become even more prevalent. Up to six out of 10 children and adolescents report high levels of mental health ‘distress’, primarily in the form of symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a review of several studies published in January 2022.

“In the midst of this mental health crisis, schools are seeing increased referrals to special education, but they are simultaneously experiencing critical shortages at all levels of mental health professionals, especially school psychologists,” says Kathleen Woodward, a senior evaluation consultant for Pearson and a nationally certified school psychologist. Indeed, while the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a ratio of one school psychologist for every 500 studentscurrent national ratio estimates are one psychologist per 1,211 students, with some states approaching ratios of one psychologist per 5,000 students.

Help may be on the way: that of President Joe Biden 2023 budget proposal includes $1 billion for schools to increase the number of health professionals, including counselors, psychologists and social workers, as well as $438 million to support global services. But even with additional funding, school counselors and psychologists will continue to take on a considerable burden.

We’ve all heard the adage to put on our oxygen mask before helping others, but it can seem difficult when the demands of the job are so great. And the truth is that while much of the focus has been on student mental health, the prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress has also increased in adults.

Although we often tend to notice problems in others rather than look within, mental health professionals need to realize that they deserve the same protection they give to those in their care. as they look out for their own well-being amid the toll of the pandemic.

With that in mind, Woodward offers four key ways for school counselors and psychologists to deal with current feelings of overwhelm in the face of these dramatically increased workloads.

1. Recognize what burnout looks like

A sign commonly associated with burnout in many professions is a general disengagement from their role. But that experience doesn’t typically happen for helping professions, Woodward says. “They keep giving it their all and doing it over and over, which is often the cause of exhaustion,” she says. She recommends watching for other signs of burnout, which can involve trouble sleeping, lack of concentration and mood swings, such as irritability or anger.

2. Look for support

A fundamental way to alleviate stress is to connect with others in the profession who face similar challenges. There are myriad ways to do this, whether it’s having regular coffee dates with colleagues, joining online discussion groups and mailing lists, or becoming active in organizations and local, state and national trade associations. “These types of networks can help lessen the feelings of isolation that have become so common because professional colleagues also understand and experience what you are going through,” notes Woodward.

She cites a recent session at the NASP annual convention on the topic of mental health screening, in which attendees spent the first 45 minutes talking about the current realities of their roles. “I was surprised at how eager everyone was to share their concerns and the challenges they are currently facing,” she comments, adding that these types of experiences can feel cathartic.

3. Adjust your schedule

With heavy workloads and competing priorities, school mental health professionals may find it impossible to delay completing a task until the next day, as many situations amount to crises that require immediate management. . Rearranging your daily schedule based on your energy level can help. “Block in time for necessary and yet somewhat mundane or less desirable tasks, such as report writing and paperwork,” recommends Woodward.

She finds managing these activities in the morning can help clear your head and give you the time and energy to focus on other issues as they arise throughout the day. Postponing these tasks until nights and weekends can further sap energy levels and contribute to stress.

4. Free up your time

There are many ideas for improving productivity, such as responding to messages quickly rather than letting them pile up, or grouping similar tasks together, such as doing all your documents at once. But mental health professionals — and the schools and districts they serve — should assess and consider adopting tools that help them save time and energy without sacrificing the quality of their assessment work. students.

“These platforms have revolutionized psychological and psychoeducational assessment, as they reduce the time spent both administering and scoring the tests,” explains Woodward.

For instance, Pearson’s Q-interactive tool allows professionals to administer performance-based tests via iPad, immediately streamlining the process. “It eliminates the burden of lugging around physical test kits or having to drive from building to building to pick up a physical test kit or even waiting for the kits to become available because you are sharing them with colleagues” , says Woodward.

Additionally, automated scoring saves practitioners approximately 60 minutes per assessment. And they don’t have to wait for paper forms to be filled out or remind parents and teachers to return them.

“We consistently hear positive feedback from users who say the new digital process is a game-changer,” says Woodward. “It validates what we at Pearson are focused on as a company: the human factor and reminding people that they need to take care of themselves so they can apply energy to the needs of their students.”

Whether you need a digital overhaul of your assessment process or an opportunity to share with your colleagues the stress you are feeling right now, making room for your well-being remains essential to providing health care. high quality to students in your school and district.

Get more ideas to support your mental health and that of your students by visiting Pearson Assessments Resource Center.

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