May 22, 2020

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
mental health awareness month

Building a network of resources to help educators deal with the stresses, rapid changes, losses and concerns wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the ways NYSUT is helping its members navigate through this unprecedented time.

“We have a lot of resources for students, as it should be, but who’s asking about the mental health of educators?” asked Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president, who will be hosting a Twitter Chat May 31 focusing on mental health.

“Educators need to take care of their social-emotional needs in order to be able to take care of students as school resumes,” DiBrango said. “This Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to know about you. And we want to know what your school community is doing to ensure that you are mentally ready to tackle the challenges we will be facing in education this summer and fall.”

In her recent blog, DiBrango wrote about this very concern, asking educators to ascertain what their school will be doing to debrief teachers, and to work collaboratively to see that the school has a mental health plan.

In order to build connections and community, NYSUT’s Research and Educational Services department is developing a healing circle that educators can use in person or online. It can be used in groups over the summer, or as school starts again, to help educators process the many stark changes in work, home and community brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.

The healing circle is an opportunity for educators to talk and to listen to each other to help work through grief and loss around the pandemic, which forced school buildings to close overnight. Those losses can include human connections with students; a possible loss of income from a spouse’s job; social connections with colleagues; events; team sports; the abrupt manner school ended; a death of a friend or family member from the virus; feelings of safety. Many educators have had concerns about students getting proper care during the shutdown, and an increase of domestic violence.

“There’s a whole feeling of safety and security that’s been upset,” said Terry McSweeney, a staffer in the union’s Research and Educational Services division. “It’s creating a space to acknowledge all that.” She said the program is based on restorative practice circles and will be available soon to members.

The circle will begin with educators meeting in groups and being asked a series of leading questions.

Some supports for educators are modeled after programs from the Mental Health Association of New York State, which offers information and videos on dealing with collective grief, collective trauma or creating a wellness board.

To examine healing circles for teachers, visit

Additional resources for educators during a public health crisis:

Resources for Responsive Circles