‘Back to school’ is having an impact on mental health

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Back to school this year has been hard on everyone, and that includes Kansas educators and school staff.

Teachers have been tasked with creating online courses and materials or creating an in-person environment that follows all health and safety guidelines, and for some both.

“Preparing for virtual [learning] has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” said Jamila Harris-Smith, Professional School Counselor with Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

Harris-Smith says educators have a lot of extra stress and anxiety right now, and some may even be experiencing depression.

“Teachers are working harder than ever,” she said. “However, we want to keep ourselves, our families and most importantly our students and other staff members safe.”

Topeka Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson, says the mental health of her staff is incredibly important.

“When you’re operating from a point of anxiety and stress, you are less able, I believe, to function at your greatest self,” said Dr. Anderson.

Topeka Public Schools asked staff to fill out mental health surveys before returning to school. The surveys helped identify how staff were feeling and common issues that could be resolved, even if that means some teachers choose to not teach in-person.

“We’ve taken the position that we care more about lives, and not having to go to funerals, than we do about work product and output and numbers and politics, quite frankly,” said Dr. Anderson.

Harris-Smith adds that the isolation of quarantining has also really taken its toll on adults and children and now that school is back in session, kids may be struggling to keep up with all of the sudden changes.

“They are uncertain; they want to see their teachers, they want to see their friends, they want to socialize. A lot of students don’t understand, especially the younger students, what’s going on,” explained Harris-Smith.

She says the best thing to do for students is to explain things on their level, so they understand. It’s also important to make it clear that the changes are being done for everyone’s safety, so the students are more likely to follow through with the changes.

For adults that are struggling, Harris-Smith recommends they talk to someone, whether that’s a professional counselor or friends and family. For both kids and adults, she says spending some time outside can help improve mental health.

“Natural sunlight is something that’s very good for everyone’s endorphins,” added Harris-Smith.

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