Social workers put under huge amounts of workplace stress

A survey of over 2,000 frontline social workers and managers has discovered that at least 80 per cent of them feel stressed to levels where it is affecting their ability to do their job.

Community Care is a network for social workers, and they carried out the survey. The response rate to this survey was the biggest that they have had to date, possibly indicating that it is a topic important to many of the members.

Almost 97 per cent of the respondents said that they were moderately or very stressed, showing just how stressful social care can be.

Of course, many people in many jobs get stressed out, but, worryingly, a third of those responding to the social care survey admitted that they use alcohol to help them cope with stress. 17 per cent are using prescription drugs.

However, despite these worrying figures, only 16 per cent said that they had received any kind of guidance or training to deal with stress, and less than a third said that it had been offered to them.

Sue Kent of the British Association of Social Workers asked the striking questions: “Why do we not have automatic opportunities for counselling and support for all social workers, like other professions? And how can we accept that in our people-focused profession it is still taboo to talk about stress within the workplace?”

One social worker claimed that the amount of stress she is under is causing her insomnia. “I am stressed to the point of not sleeping. I experience constant anxiety and I’m fearful about both the situation of very vulnerable service users in the future and my own future if I am unable to continue in a profession I have worked in for well over 20 years.”

Why is it such a stressful sector to work in? The most common reasons given for stress, was simply, the heavy and increasingly complex caseloads that workers have to deal with, as well as a fear that something could go wrong.

Arguably, an increase in paper work and legal restrictions on how social workers do their job is multiplying the stress of doing a job which can make or break their charges’ lives.

Furthermore, the stresses of being so close to their charges can make the workers vulnerable. For example, the death of a child that a social worker has been working with for a long while could impact them a lot, but this effect is usually overlooked by management.

This could be seen to reflect the state of mental healthcare across the country. We have recently begun to understand mental health problems at a much higher level, but that understanding is not being transformed into practical care.

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