Social workers have experienced depression, PTSD and anxiety at alarming rates during the pandemic

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A new study published in the journal International Social Service found about rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety among social workers.

COVID-19-related stressors were the strongest factors associated with negative mental health outcomes. Those who experienced a greater number of pandemic-related stressors — such as health concerns, increased caregiving responsibilities, violence at home, family stress due to confinement, and stress associated with work-life balance — had mental health problems at a higher rate. a higher rate compared to those who have not been as affected by the pandemic-related hardships.

“Like doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals, social workers are feeling the impact of the pandemic and it’s showing in their mental health,” says lead author Ramona Alaggia, a professor at the Factor-Inwentash College at the University of Toronto. of Social Work (FIFSW) and the Margaret and Wallace McCain Chair in Children and Family. “As we celebrate Ontario Social Work Week March 6-12 and National Social Work Month in March, it is important to recognize the stressors that affect social workers and the well-being of those who work in this essential field.”

An alarming 40% of the sample reported depression – which is four times more than the general population. The reported rate of depression among social workers is also substantially higher than other healthcare professionals working in conditions related to COVID-19, where the prevalence rate of depression was 24%. In total, one-fifth of the sample reported PTSD, while 15% reported anxiety.

“As personal stressors among social workers increase, so do the needs of those they serve,” says co-author Esme Fuller-Thomson, FIFSW professor and director of the Life Course and Aging Institute at the University of Toronto. “With rising rates of domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness and addiction, death rates in long-term care systems and homelessness, the jobs of social workers have become more demanding than ever.”

The majority of respondents were from Ontario and married or in common law unions. Half of the respondents had children under the age of 18 and 85% were women, which is consistent with the number of women working in the field of social work.

“Recent trends clearly indicate that women experienced the most negative job change and job loss during COVID-19,” says Carolyn O’Connor, co-author and doctoral candidate at FIFSW. “Time studies consistently show that women are generally the ones carrying the most household and childcare responsibilities at home. Meanwhile, the COVID lockdowns have made working from home even more stressful as parents juggle work demands with homeschooling while experiencing isolation and less support.”

The study also found that social workers most affected by mental health issues tend to be younger, less experienced and less established in their profession. Resilience levels were also measured. Those who were older and had higher incomes had higher resilience scores.

“Job instability is common early in a social worker’s career, especially when working in a neoliberal environment that promotes precarious, contractual working conditions with fewer benefits and lower wages,” says co-author and Ph.D. . from FIFSW. candidate Keri West.

Alaggia says that in her work with community agencies, she has observed that social workers have been leaving in large numbers since early 2022, with some agencies reporting shortcomings of up to 30% in staffing levels and significant problems filling these positions.

“It seems that a tipping point has been reached – social workers are leaving traditional settings because of low wages, job insecurity and meager benefits,” says Alaggia. “Given the essential social roles that social workers play, strategies are urgently needed to sustain the profession in the next generation and for generations to come. These strategies should include a trauma-informed approach and strong mental health supports for staff. in the field of social work and building resilience in social work systems is the way forward.”

More information:
Ramona Alaggia et al, Hard times: early setbacks, mental health and resilience of Canadian social workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, International Social Service (2023). DOI: 10.1177/00208728221144380

Provided by the University of Toronto

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Social workers have experienced depression, PTSD and anxiety at alarming rates during the pandemic

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