Socially Distanced Teaching: The Mental Health Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Special Education Teachers
Apr 28 2022
Special educators were already experiencing high rates of stress and burnout before the pandemic. This study emphasizes the additional stress on special educators during the pandemic. Educators are experiencing more stress, depression, anxiety, and mental exhaustion regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding. —Tanya Farrol
Mental Health Impacts
This study focuses on the mental health impact on special education teachers (SETs) during the pandemic in the US. Before the pandemic, there were national shortages of special educators as many were leaving the profession due to stress and burnout. With the onset of the pandemic, there have been no studies to focus on the mental health impact on special educators. The authors of this study aimed to “(1) provide a nationwide view of levels of stress, burnout, and mental health of SETs, (2) examine differences in stress, burnout, and mental health by race, ethnicity, gender, and school demographics of SETs, and (3) examine the increased impact of the pandemic on stress, burnout, and mental health overall of SETs.”
A survey was created using Qualtrics and a flyer was created to advertise for special educators in public and charter schools throughout the US. The survey used the following measures:
- Maslach Burnout Inventory – Educators Survey:1 specifically, the emotional exhaustion scale was used.
- Patient Health Questionnaire:2 used in diagnosing and assessing depression based on the DSM-IV criteria for major depressive disorder.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale:3 a self-screening tool for diagnosing and assessing general anxiety.
- Teacher Specific Stress:4 used to assess 7 sources of stress in relation to teaching:
- classroom management;
- poor student academic performance;
- lack of student motivation;
- supporting students with special needs;
- time and workload pressures;
- problems with school administration; and
The data for the survey was collected during the fall of 2020, as the first part of a three-part long study. Four hundred and sixty-eight participants completed the survey with the majority being women (88.7%), and White (85.5%). Latinos made up 6.2% of the survey and 9% were Black. The average age of the respondents was 43.
The results show that special educators found that COVID had a significant impact on stress (91%), depression (58%), anxiety (76%), and emotional exhaustion (83%). Black special educators had less emotional exhaustion and teacher stress than non-Black special educators. There were no significant diagnostic differences based on race, ethnicity, gender, or school funding.
Based on the results, “a strikingly large percentage of SETs are experiencing clinically diagnosable symptoms of [general anxiety disorder] GAD and major depression, much larger than the normative U.S. prevalence rates.” The significant impact of the pandemic on special educators means more needs to be done to provide this group with mental health supports.
Cormier, C. J., McGrew, J., Ruble, L., & Fischer, M. (2021). Socially distanced teaching: The Mental Health Impact of the COVID‐19 pandemic on special education teachers. Journal of Community Psychology, 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcop.22736
The study is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences grant #R324A200232 awarded to second and third authors. Researcher Dr. John McGrew participated in the final version of this summary.
Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.
- Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E., Leiter, M.P., Schaufeli, W.B., & Schwab, R.L. (1986). Maslach burnout inventory. Consulting Psychologists Press.
- Kroenke, K., & Spitzer, R. L. (2002). The PHQ-9: a new depression diagnostic and severity measure. Psychiatric annals, 32(9), 509-515.
- Spitzer, R.L., Kroenke, K., Williams, J.B., & Löwe, B. (2006) A brief measure for assessing generalized anxiety disorder: The GAD-7. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(10), 1092-1097. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.10.1092
- Bernard, M.E. (2016). Teacher beliefs and stress. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 34(3), 209-224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-016-0238-y