David Brandon outlines the many pressures and stresses that face
workers in social care, and the aim of research into depression
among social care staff.
Social workers have to help clients with a whole range of
problems, some of which can be deeply upsetting such as bereavement
or child abuse. But very little attention is paid to the effects of
work upon social workers’ mental health or how depression is dealt
with by work colleagues or managers or how depressed people who
work in social acre and social work cope.
The University of Hull, with the support of the Social Care
Association and the British Association of Social Workers, wants to
carry out research into depression among social workers.
The study will be based on a similar research carried out into
depression among nurses.1 This study used questionnaires
and in-depth phone interviews. The results were published in a
number of nursing journals. Some stories were heart-breaking but
many individuals made good recoveries, and the study was able to
make some concrete suggestions about improving services for
The aim is to do something similar for social workers. The
research will use the questionnaire opposite, which can be
completed by anyone working in the social care field who has ever
felt depressed. This may mean anything from occasional periods of
sleeplessness and loss of appetite to wanting to commit suicide.
There will be follow-up interviews with volunteers. The findings of
this study will be analysed by staff from the University of Hull
social work department.
These are difficult times for social care. Many organisations
are 10 to 20 per cent down on social worker recruitment, with some
relying on overseas staff to fill the large gaps. Young people
would rather work with computers than with distressed and
marginalised people. Pay and conditions are not competitive.
Recruits are coming from the Philippines, South Africa, Romania and
Ireland. They will all be welcome although the needs are perhaps
even greater in their home countries.
The various scandals in child care, learning difficulties and
mental illness are used to beat the profession over the head and
all add to to the impression created by the media that social care
professionals are sandal-wearing liberals who are obsessed by
political correctness. The lack of competence and improper
behaviour of the few are used to vilify the many. And all this
despite the high levels of violence that social workers are subject
In a healthy reaction Community Care and the Local
Government Association have launched an awareness campaign to
enhance public understanding of the worthwhile work social workers
do. Every year the work gets more demanding and less
In recent weeks, the government has announced more money to
finance improved training schemes for relevant staff and the
setting up of a three-year degree. This is to be welcomed but
social care needs much more money and less bureaucracy to make up
for the long years of neglect, low status and insult.
As health minister John Hutton recently commented: “Social
services provide vital support and care for many people in our
society… Social work needs to be recognised as an important and
valued professional career, seen by young people as an attractive
job choice.” This long-awaited support is welcome.
I am very proud to have worked in social care for more than 30
years. I have run hostels, worked as an auxiliary nurse, been a
psychiatric social worker, a chairperson of BASW, sweated at social
care work, and latterly worked in professional social work
training. During much of that time I have struggled daily, like so
many others, with depression. I am a long-term mental health
survivor and have been writing, talking and broadcasting about it,
nearly all my working life. Many days and sometimes for months on
end, it has been an immense struggle even to get out of bed.
We want to hear from people with similar as well as very
different stories to tell. We want to hear from people who feel
their employers have supported them or have let them down; have
suffered from systems that did not take their needs into account;
and those who have experienced overwhelming life events. I myself
spent some of my childhood fleeing from a violent father and
sleeping rough on the streets of London. We want to hear from
people who feel they have a “chemical imbalance”, who find
themselves feeling very sad and sometimes much worse.
In a few months’ time, the results of these questionnaires will
be published in Community Care. The study will try
honestly and accurately to reflect your various views and to point
out ways in which services might offer better support for
distressed and depressed staff who are potentially a unique and
We look forward to hearing and learning from you and turning
what you write into something concrete to make genuine improvements
in the various support services.
1 Woody Caan and David Brandon “What makes
nurses depressed?” Nursing Standard, vol 15, no 2, 27 September,
David Brandon lives in Scarborough. He is visiting professor of
social work at Nottingham Trent University, a Zen Buddhist monk and
author of the book Tao of Survival -Spirituality in Social Care and
Counselling, Venture Press, 2000.
* The questionnaire is available on page 21 of the magazine.