Social Worker Well-Being in the Time of COVID-19
Over the past several weeks of the coronavirus crisis, cities have gone into lockdown, governors have issued stay-at-home orders, and an increasing number of people have been practicing social distancing on a societal scale we’ve never before witnessed. As a result, there have been a spate of articles from media outlets about how the public can look after their mental health while staying at home.
These articles generally tend to include helpful ideas such as finding ways to socialize using technology, exercising, eating well, destressing, getting enough sleep, refraining from too much news consumption, and engaging in hobbies. People who had been seeing therapists have been advised to continue working with them through virtual platforms such as Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. This is all sound, evidence-based advice.
But what about the social workers and mental health professionals who will be delivering the care to help the public weather the storm? What about their own well-being? They are also human beings, after all, and just because they are trained to help others with their challenges does not mean they are equally adept at doing so when it comes to their own challenges. On top of that, social workers may be dealing with some of the same problems that people in the general public are, including financial struggles and the stress that comes with social isolation, sometimes while having to take care of children or other family members simultaneously.
A silver lining of being beset with the same problems their clients are facing is that it may help social workers provide effective services and relate more closely to those they’re working with. This is what we discovered in a study of behavioral health recovery and social workers delivering services in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Rita (Hansel et al., 2011). My hope is that the same will apply for social workers during the current public health crisis. At the same time, it is nevertheless incumbent upon those providing social work services to safeguard their own mental health, and there are a number of points that apply to them in particular.
Practicing What We Preach
Checking In With Peers and Colleagues
Social Workers Need (and Deserve) Therapy Too
Setting More Boundaries or Expanding Current Ones
Self-Care for the Sake of Others
If there was ever a time for social workers to prioritize their own mental health in addition to that of others, that time is now. And they should do so feeling reassured that rather than being a selfish act, taking care of themselves will only help them take better care of others.
— Tonya Hansel, PhD, LMSW, is director of the Doctorate of Social Work at Tulane University. She is a social worker with expertise in research, statistics, disaster mental health, trauma, and maximizing outcomes for social service agencies.
Kratz, R. (2018, July 9). Peer support: Building up from the inside out. Social Work Today. https://www.socialworktoday.com/news/pp_070918.shtml.
Morse, G., Salyers, M.P., Rollins, A.L., Monroe-DeVita, M., & Pfahler, C. (2012). Burnout in mental health services: A review of the problem and its remediation. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 39(5), 341-352.
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2014). Psychological First Aid for Schools (PFA-S) Field Operations Guide. https://www.nctsn.org/resources/pfa-s-provider-self-care.
Tulane School of Social Work. (n.d.). Managing mental well-being during reduced in-person contact. https://tssw.tulane.edu/tipsforwellbeing.