The current state of teachers’ mental health remains a top headline. Mental fitness in education just might be the answer.
As the upcoming school year rests on the horizon, school leaders and administrators across the country are echoing the call for better support for educators’ mental health.
SchoolMint recently attended the Florida Association of School Administrators Discover ‘22 summer conference. At the conference, Addison Davis, Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, said something that struck a chord with the audience:
“Our real pandemic is mental health. Are you serving the mental health and well-being of your staff?”
The call is loud and clear: teachers and other school faculty need mental health support now more than ever. Make it a priority in your school or district for the 2022–2023 school year.
In today’s blog, you’ll learn how you can support your staff through mental fitness training — and how improving one’s mental fitness can lead to a reduction in mild to moderate symptoms of burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression among teachers and other faculty.
Pioneered by Dr. Andrew Miki, the founder and chief science officer of Starling Minds, mental fitness is based on the idea that just as someone can improve their physical fitness through strategic exercises, so too can people improve their mental state — their mental fitness — through cognitive behavioral therapy and exercises.
As Dr. Miki explains in his podcast interview, Supporting Mental Fitness, with SchoolMint’s chief academic officer, Dr. Chris Balow, the term mental fitness evolved from his personal life.
As Dr. Miki tells it (edited for brevity):
“My dad was a physician. One of the things he took with him as he went into medicine was his physical education background. I talked to him a lot about psychology, and he’s the one who gave me the idea. He’s like, “You should be a psychologist.” And that was like a light bulb going off. At a young age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. We talked a lot over time about mental health and what he was seeing in his patients.
And then, as my career progressed, I was fortunate where the two of us were able to work together in his office before I started Starling. We’d have lunch and talk about [mental health]. And then he’s like, this is a lot like physical health, where you’re getting people to do exercises, and they’re getting better physically.”
As for why Dr. Miki prefers to use mental fitness rather than mental health, he explains, “Mental fitness is a very approachable term. People get it in their own way. They like it. It’s not like saying mental health, because when you say mental health, people think mental illness.”
Simply put, mental fitness is a positive, approachable term that seeks to move away from the negative connotation sometimes associated with mental health.
Why Practice Mental Fitness?
Taking care of your mental health requires a skillset that anyone — especially teachers — can improve upon over time. When educators practice and develop good mental fitness, Dr. Miki explains, they get a wealth of benefits.
An educator with good mental fitness can:
Better manage their thoughts.
Better compartmentalize worry.
Move on quicker from stressful situations.
Set good boundaries.
Be assertive and confident.
Just as with physical exercise, where the physically fitter you are the better protected against illness you are, mental fitness works in a similar, parallel way.
The more someone exercises mental fitness, the stronger mentally they will be.
For example, a person who practices mental fitness strategies for stress management will develop over time the ability to take on more stress (up to a limit).
Additionally, supporting teachers’ mental health pays off for schools and administrators. In schools that prioritize the well-being of staff, they experience:
A reduction in sick leave as well as short- and long-term disability claims
Higher teacher retention rates
Improved student outcomes brought on by happier, more engaged teachers
Online Mental Health Support for Teachers
Naturally, once we learned about the concept of mental fitness and the great work Starling Minds has done with educators (and other industries), we wanted to explore how we could work together to bring the Starling Minds platform to K-12 schools in the United States.