SAULT STE. MARIE -- Principals across Ontario are facing high levels of stress as a result of the pandemic, according to a new survey.

The survey, put together by advocacy group People for Education, surveyed principals at 1,173 schools across the province.

Of those, 57 per cent of principals on virtual campuses reported unmanageable stress levels, while 49 per cent of those from in-person and hybrid schools said the same.

"In regards to my colleagues, I can understand it because our jobs have changed drastically," said Natasha Court, principal of H.M. Robbins Public School in Sault Ste. Marie. "That includes reminding kids to wear their masks, stay six feet apart, making sure we have enough sanitizer, ordering (personal protective equipment). It's a whole layer of responsibility that's been added to our job."

Pandemic stress

Court said she, too, is feeling the added stress of the pandemic, but it's so far not been overwhelming.

"We left on March 13 as a result of the pandemic, and if you asked me back then what it was going to be like now, I would've never guessed it would've been like this," she said. "It has been stressful, but it's been so rewarding and so exciting because we need our schools to be open for kids' mental health and for them to get a quality education."

The Sault's branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) said the statistics themselves aren't at all surprising.

"Typically what happens when we are facing something new, something that's a threat to our health and safety, something that is a threat to our everyday life, our immediate response is stress," said Lisa Carricato, mental health instructor at the CMHA.

Carricato also works in partnership with Sault College and said in many instances, the results of the survey reflect what she's observed on campus.

"We've noticed this with our students at the college too," she said. "People are lacking that personal connection when you get to see people."

A total of 73 per cent of those surveyed at in-person schools said ensuring physical distancing among students and staff was among their top concerns.

Carricato is encouraging anyone who is feeling prolonged stress to seek professional help.