Social workers ‘collapsing’ under workplace stress

Three in five social workers to contact the British Association of Social Workers' advice and representation team are suffering from work-related stress.

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Three in five social workers to contact the British Association of Social Workers’ advice and representation team are suffering from work-related stress.

Statistics released this month show that, of the 151 cases allocated to BASW’s advice and representation (A&R) officers, 60% involved social workers who were absent from work due to work-related stress, complaining of high caseloads and the associated stress or taking prescribed medication for the symptoms of stress and/or depression.

BASW could not provide figures from previous years, but anecdotal evidence suggested the proportion of stress-related referrals to the A&R service was rising.

One A&R officer said: “I’ve seen an increase in the number of social workers, managers and even senior managers who complain of ‘collapsing under the pressures’ of increased workloads and unsupportive or oppressive management.”

Another added: “I see no evidence of any improvement in the morale of social workers, both from my own caseload and working on the duty desk. Most days on the advice line, I feel like a counsellor.”

Possible solutions, they said, included putting in place effective workload management systems to avoid social workers becoming overloaded, and creating a culture of empowering frontline staff.

CASE STUDY: ‘I didn’t want to be treated as a professional’

I’ve worked in the care sector since 1975 and, like any human being, I have had periods of being down, writes Jennifer McMillan, a social work team manager in a mental health charity.

But I went off with work-related stress last December. I suppose I was going downhill for some time; I couldn’t pedal fast enough to stay ahead and I was concerned about my staff and our service users. And in mental health, there is a tendency to bring the chaos of your clients into the mix. I went off with work-related exhaustion, which turned into clinical depression.

Even though I have taught about and seen the effects of depression, I never thought I’d become a service user myself. When I needed mental health services, those professionals who knew I was a trained social worker tried to treat me as a peer. But I didn’t want that; it almost increased my sense of failure.

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