The majority of college instructors say they are struggling with mental health issues, which may impact their ability to teach effectively.

How to help college instructors with mental health struggles


The majority of college instructors say they are struggling with mental health issues, which may be impacting their ability to teach effectively

Key points:

Mental health issues and increasing levels of burnout and stress from the demands of their jobs are weighing on college instructors, according to a new survey by Wiley.

The Instructor Mental Health Landscape–the last in a series of three Wiley studies exploring mental health issues across the practitioner and higher education landscape–reports six out of 10 college instructors (61 percent) say they are struggling with their mental health to some degree. And more than one-third said teaching was more stressful than during the previous academic year.

Instructors cite a number of factors that are contributing to mental health issues they are experiencing, including:

  • Ongoing pressure to meet the increasing demands and needs of students (51 percent)
  • Being asked to do more with less time and fewer resources (49 percent)
  • Spending too much time on non-teaching related tasks (48 percent)
  • Feeling underpaid for the work they do (43 percent)

The increase in mental health struggles may well be having a negative impact on instructors’ ability to teach effectively. Fifteen percent say they feel burned out or exhausted, while another 15 percent report having less energy and patience.

Among various challenges instructors face, keeping students engaged and helping them retain class material are high on the list. Sixty-five percent say it’s a challenge to keep students engaged, while 53 percent say that they struggle with teaching students who start courses with different knowledge levels. These findings are aligned with those of Wiley’s March 2024 student mental health survey, where 61 percent of students said staying engaged and remaining interested in classes was a challenge.

“The mental health crisis is pervasive, impacting college instructors just as we saw it hurting students and practitioners in our previous surveys,” said Amanda Miller, Wiley group vice president, Academic Publishing Group. “It’s important for college officials to understand and acknowledge the strain felt by students and instructors as a result of these issues and continue to take whatever steps they can to help ease the impact on their education and their lives.”

The findings suggest many instructors believe the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to their mental health issues. Fifty-seven percent said the pandemic had a negative impact on them, and 83 percent feel it had a negative impact on students.

College instructors are well aware that students are also experiencing mental health issues. Nearly all respondents (93 percent) say they believe students are struggling emotionally either a little or significantly. That aligns with the findings of Wiley’s recent report on students, in which more than 80 percent of college students said they are struggling emotionally at least somewhat.

Recommendations

Wiley’s report recommends steps colleges and universities can take to support both instructors and students as they navigate the mental health crisis.

  • Increasing support: As instructors feel increasingly exhausted and experience more burnout, they’ll need more support. Support networks for instructors can go a long way in improving mental health for both instructors and students.
  • Recognizing burnout: Burnout is an issue that can be addressed through various means, including peer support networks, time-saving resources, and strategies for self-care.
  • Providing resources: Instructors need materials that are easy to implement and that save them time and effort. With student engagement a big challenge for many instructors, materials should be flexible, interesting, and provide more opportunity for class interaction.

This report is the third in a series of three surveys focusing on mental health issues impacting the higher education community. The first report, The Psychology Practitioner: Navigating High Demand, Burnout, and Telemedicine, issued in December 2023, focused on mental health practitioners, while the second, The Student Mental Health Landscape, issued in March 2024, focused on college students.

This press release originally appeared online.

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Laura Ascione

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