One-third of social workers on anti-depressants in South East

More than a third of council social workers in south east England are taking anti-depressants or other medication, according to Unison.

The finding emerged from a review of working conditions in children’s services departments by Unison’s social care forum for the region.

Little progress on working conditions

Paul Couchman, branch secretary of Surrey County Unison and regional convener, said the review was conducted six months after Lord Laming’s national review of child protection in England was published in March, which found children’s social workers were working under “immense” pressure due to “poor supervision, high caseloads, under-resourcing and inadequate training”.

Unison’s regional review found that whilst some progress was being made, practitioners were still working excessive hours, large numbers of locum or agency staff are being employed by team managers, and “there is a general climate of fear that things will go badly wrong”.

“High numbers” on anti-depressants

Couchman said he had heard similar reports of “high numbers” of social workers being on anti-depressants from representatives of other branches across the South East. “The overwhelming reason is too much work,” he explained. “Social workers are constantly torn between the desire to do their best for children and look after themselves.”

Stress and mental health

The finding comes after an exclusive Community Care survey revealed in April that most social workers face burnout due to making difficult decisions under stress.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer of BASW, said in response to Unison’s south east England survey: “There has to be a high correlation between high stress and sickness, and the increase in child protection cases is having an affect on individuals. My guess is it will be similar across the country.”

An “empathetic” profession

However, Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at leading mental health charity Mind, said stress was not the only possible cause of depression in social work.

“People with experience of mental distress may be attracted to professions where they can draw on their experiences to offer support to others,” she said.

Supporting staff

A spokesperson from the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health pointed out that depression is commonplace, and said local authorities “should accept that and find ways to support their staff”. 

“By and large, being at work is a good thing, but it’s important for the workplace to be supportive and positive,” he added.

Unison’s south east reigional care forum comprises 12 representatives from councils in Windsor and Maidenhead, Woking, Reading, Hampshire, West Sussex, Southampton, Isle of Wight and Surrey.

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