Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Michael Hass

Second Advisor

Dr. Randy Busse

Third Advisor

Dr. Trisha Sugita

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Nate Hosley


People who support others who have experienced trauma, like nurses, doctors, social workers, or first responders can sometimes be affected by a type of stress called secondary traumatic stress (STS). Although the effect of STS has been studied in helpers like social workers and medical professionals, the prevalence and characteristics of STS in teachers have not been studied extensively and are less understood. Schools in our communities impacted by the opioid epidemic also report additional stressors from issues like addiction, overdose, crime, neglect, rise in foster care, increased medical care, and death. This dissertation investigates STS in K-12 public school teachers in the United States, in areas of varying opioid impact. Specifically, K-12 teachers (n = 450), in 26 states and Washington, D. C., were surveyed utilizing a validated instrument for secondary traumatic stress (Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale; Bride, Robinson, Yegidis, & Figley, 2004), along with demographic questions and open-ended questions. Teachers were also asked about adverse childhood experiences of their students, using the PHL-ACE categories (Health Federation of Philadelphia and Philadelphia ACE Research and Data Committee, 2012). The prevalence and extent of teacher STS were explored in communities of low-, medium-, and high-opioid impact levels as defined by the National Institute of Health epidemiology parameters. I used descriptive statistics and correlations (Spearman’s Rho) to determine the prevalence of STS in the sample of teachers and to determine if this prevalence had any relationship to the opioid mortality rate in communities. Over half of the teachers in the VII study (59.56%) experienced STS at a moderate or higher level. Teachers in high opioid zones reported the highest mean STSS scores (M = 43.78, SD = 16.00), with 62.67% scoring at 38 or higher. Over 85% of teachers endorsed intrusion symptoms at a diagnostic level. Between 91-93% of all teachers surveyed endorsed adverse events experienced by their students. Using Spearman’s Rho correlation, I did not find a relationship between the environment of the opioid zone or the demographic characteristics of the teachers. Additional findings and implications are discussed and support the need to continue teacher STS research in all communities.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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