Supporting your own mental health
By Gemma Raw
Social workers need to take care of themselves
Last year, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) released a report in conjunction with the Social Workers Union (SWU). This report explored issues relating to working conditions and wellbeing for social workers in the UK. The research revealed that almost two-thirds of social work practitioners and managers were looking to leave their job within the next 16 months; primarily because of rising levels of stress.
Stress is a key cause of social worker burnout, a pandemic which is significantly affecting the social work profession throughout the UK. We need to pay attention to the growing issue of burnout, and it’s clear from BASW’s report, that this is something which needs attention if we wish to protect the social work profession.
As more and more practitioners start to think about leaving the sector, we look at what we should be doing to proactively protect our own mental health, as well as supporting our colleagues.
Mental health in the workplace: the statistics
According to national charity, Mind, mental health problems in the workplace are increasingly common. Mind’s research has found that many people feel that mental health is a taboo subject and are scared to confront the issue at work.
According to Mind;
One in six workers will be affected by a mental health issue including anxiety or depression
21% of people have called in sick to avoid work as a result of workplace stress
42% of people have considered resigning as a result of workplace stress
Mental health issues within the workplace are not just relevant to the social work profession. It is a growing concern for all UK workforces, making it vital that we develop coping strategies to take care of ourselves.
Making your own mental health a priority
As social workers, you’ll be more attuned than most to spot the signs of mental ill-health – particularly if you are a trained AMHP. But despite your training, it can be easy to neglect your own wellbeing as you work hard to provide support for vulnerable children and adults.
If you feel that you are struggling to cope with work-related stress or other mental health issues, then the most important thing you can do is to speak with your line manager. If you’re working on a particularly complex case, then it is natural that your mental health could be affected. Therefore, you must speak openly with your senior management team, so that they can implement comprehensive wellbeing policies to support you and your colleagues.
If you find it difficult to speak with management about the emotional aspect of your mental health, then why not focus solely on the practicalities? For example, you may want to switch to flexible or part-time hours, or maybe you simply need to book a last-minute holiday. You may find that having some practical solutions could make the conversation less nerve-wracking.
Of course, changing your working hours or booking a holiday may not always be feasible. We recommend reading Mind’s top tips for staying well at work. They suggest a variety of minor changes which could improve your work-life balance, helping you to feel stronger and happier at work.
How team managers can effectively support their team
In our most recent issue of Social Work News, we spoke with Sass Boucher, who has developed a new social work model for self-care.
Based on the concept of “five pillars of protection” the model is designed to protect against professional trauma and fatigue. Sass believes that it’s important that social workers should start to include self-care as an important part of all CPD activities if we are to truly look after ourselves. She believes that employers have an important role to play in this.
She says: “Managers can and should be a self-care role model, showing them how it’s done. They should encourage the culture as a part of the model, supporting their teams throughout the day. Yes, there are impossible targets. Yes, there are immensely complex and traumatic cases. But encouraging social workers to remember why they chose to become a social worker can be valid and strengthen motivation.”
Sass also spoke about the need for training to help social workers learn how to take care of themselves effectively. Professional self-care needs to be prioritised and employers can play a big role in ensuring that this happens.
On a practical level, team managers need to ensure that effective reflective supervision sessions are regularly taking place and that they monitor how their team is coping with particularly distressing cases. They should also operate an open-door policy so that practitioners feel able to talk openly, without judgment.
Making the most of free resources
Continual budget restrictions have hampered many employer efforts to create a thriving, positive working environment. Unfortunately, a lack of money means that it can be difficult for social work departments to invest heavily into health and wellbeing strategies to support their staff.
However, there are free resources available to download online which could make a difference.
According to Mind, 56% of employers would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but feel that they lack training and/or guidance. To combat this, they have created a variety of free, downloadable resources which can be used to create healthier working environments. Although these documents aren’t social-work specific, they do offer an insight into how employers and team managers can make effective changes to support their staff.
If you are working in a team manager role, then we would recommend making use of these free resources where possible. We believe that it’s important for social workers and employers to work together to resolve the issues relating to work place stress.