Good support system a must to prevent psychological distress


  • Education
  • Sunday, 14 Jun 2020

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IMPLEMENTATION of the movement control order (MCO) paired with a host of responsibilities and uncertainty have made the last three months really tough to take, especially for teachers who have been working tirelessly for their students.

Now that their job scope includes implementing the Education Ministry’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) when school reopens, the educators who are already stressed out, risk facing a burnout due to the increased pressure.

Noting that teaching is a stressful occupation with increased demands and expectations from students, parents as well as school management, Malaysian Mental Health Association president Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj pointed out that teachers, particularly secondary school teachers in the country, have been identified as a cohort with increased propensity to develop psychological distress.Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said making counselling services readily available to teachers, and not only to students, in every school could help manage teachers' stress levels better.Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said making counselling services readily available to teachers, and not only to students, in every school could help manage teachers' stress levels better.

“This new reality of delivering lessons while submitting to the required deliverables is likely to create high stress levels leading to anxiety, depression and burn out, unless preventive measures are implemented.

“Such stress levels may not be related entirely to the new teaching methodology alone.

“Teachers with pre-existing medical problems like diabetes, heart conditions, asthma or those who are pregnant might be more apprehensive particularly when coming in close proximity with sick children, ” he said.

Ensuring that the SOPs are carried out in a ever-changing and challenging teaching environment during the recovery MCO phase is likely to increase teachers’ already heavy burden and high stress level – which can have damaging health effects.

“Undoubtedly a number of teachers would suffer from increased stress and will have difficulty coping with the new SOPs unless they are given proper training or eventually become more familiar with the new guidelines, ” he said, stressing that it is understandable that teachers worry about adapting to new technologies and increased expectations.

To manage the rising stress levels, Dr Andrew suggested that counselling services in every school should be made readily available to teachers and students.

“Schools are advised to organise regular workshops for teachers during which activities and reflections can help reduce stress and anxiety.

“Teacher peer support groups can also be established to increase communication channels between teachers to share experiences and best practices.

“This can help manage their stress levels as they navigate through the new norm in teaching, ” he said.

He urged teachers who have major challenges coping to the extent that their social and occupational functioning is significantly impaired, to immediately seek professional help from clinical psychologists or psychiatrists.

“Parents too must keep in mind the huge burden on the shoulders of teachers who are expected to march on despite the lack of acknowledgement.

“Sending a simple message or email to your child’s teacher saying that you appreciate and respect his or her hard work in this crisis will mean a lot.”Universiti Malaya Department of Psychological Medicine Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari suggested that teachers should conduct sharing sessions to learn from each other and that the Parent-Teacher Associations could recruit volunteers to help teachers implement the SOPs in school.Universiti Malaya Department of Psychological Medicine Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari suggested that teachers should conduct sharing sessions to learn from each other and that the Parent-Teacher Associations could recruit volunteers to help teachers implement the SOPs in school.

Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, a senior consultant psychiatrist at the University Malaya (UM) Medical Centre’s department of psychological medicine, suggested that Parent-Teacher Associations start recruiting volunteers to help teachers implement the SOPs.

This, he said, could lead to closer ties in the neighbourhood the school is in.

Alternatively, sharing sessions among teachers where they get to speak about their emotional difficulties, can be a form of stress relief.

“Teachers can learn from each other how to overcome stress and deal with students effectively.”

Dr Muhsin called on the ministry to have more counsellors to provide psychological support for teachers.

“Counsellors should raise a red flag on any teacher who needs additional attention. Dealing with stress at the early stage prevents the problem from worsening, ” he said.

He urged teachers not to keep emotional difficulties to themselves as it will damage their mental health in the long run.

“In a stressful situation, emotional responses like stress, frustration and anger, may escalate. If not addressed, these feelings may affect the teaching itself as well as the psychological responses from students.

“Burnout is likely to increase among teachers because many important tasks are beyond their ability in terms of time, energy and human resources, ” Dr Muhsin said, adding that teachers may develop anxiety when trying to juggle administrative tasks, teaching and executing the SOPs.

“A teacher’s job is already overwhelming even without Covid-19. Dealing with SOPs to prevent Covid-19 in schools will definitely add to the overwhelming list of duties teachers need to perform daily.

“The worst is monitoring students behavior to prevent the spread of the virus as this is a continuous task that has to be done at all times of the day.”

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