Social Workers change lives for the better. They provide care and support to individuals, families, groups and communities which enables them to find viable solutions within challenging circumstances. Being a Social Worker can be incredibly rewarding and is no doubt one of the more noble of professions. However, it can also be heart rendering, difficult and could take its toll mentally and physically.
This means that, as a Social Worker, maintaining and looking after your mental health is very important. Likewise, organisations employing Social Workers should provide access to good mental health care support for them.
Why Seeking Mental Health Support is a Sign of Strength
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is key to being able to function efficiently and effectively. It influences our thoughts, emotions, reactions and behaviour. It also impacts the enjoyment of our jobs and our everyday lives.
Correcting Common Misconceptions of Mental Health
Mental health care has an extra layer of complexity added to it because of the long-standing prejudices, social stigmas and misconceptions that surround it. Within certain cultures those who seek mental health care are ostracised as its seen as not an illness but a curse, bewitchment or punishment.
One of the challenges of family, community and institutional mental health stigmatisation, is that the mentally ill person stops treatment or is dissuaded from seeking treatment due to unnecessary feelings of shame. Those with mental health challenges also report that the social stigma attached to receiving mental health care makes it harder to recover.
Thus, assisting those who need mental health care also means educating their families and communities. Specifically, on what mental health is, the importance it plays in our lives as well as how imperative treatment thereof can be for an individual and their families. Amidst this it is important that those educating about or providing mental health care, are culturally sensitive and not dismissive of beliefs systems. Ideally, they need to find solutions which remain respectful to the contextual complexities of each individual seeking treatment.
The Myth of ‘It’s just Mind-Over-Matter’
Many mistakenly believe that because mental health involves the mind, addressing a mental health challenge or illness is a case of deciding to “pull it together” or “mind-over-matter”. However, it’s not and mental health issues are as physical as a broken arm or needing stitches. The irony is that, while it would be very difficult, one can learn to live without a limb but we only have one brain and we cannot live without it. Thus, because it has such far reaching consequences, maintaining our mental health and emotional wellbeing is of paramount importance.
The Physical Component of Emotions and Mental Wellbeing
Emotions are controlled by our brain. They are not something that “magically” appear and cause us to feel things. Rather emotions have a physical component as they are directed by the presence of specific chemicals, such that the level of these chemicals and their availability impacts our mental health and well-being.
The Impact of Mental Health on our Bodies
Our bodies react physically to a chemical imbalance within our brains. Essentially these symptoms are an indication that something is wrong within our bodies, which we need to address right away before the situation escalates.
Physical responses indicating a mental health problem include (but aren’t limited to):
- Headaches and Migraines
- Muscle aches, tension and spasms
- Chest pains and tingles in limbs
- Digestive challenges eg: stomach aches, increase or decrease in appetite, diarrhoea
- Sleep disorders
Thus, an unhealthy mental state will result in anyone of us getting to a point where we are literally unable to function. Therefore, one of the most responsible endeavours any of us can embark on is to maintain and address our mental and emotional wellbeing.
Why Social Workers are Vulnerable to Developing Mental Health Challenges
Social Workers are at risk of developing mental health challenges because of the work they are involved in. Social work is not just mentally and physically taxing but also has an emotional element to it. In order to effectively do their jobs, Social Workers often have to empathise and see the challenges faced by clients from their client’s perception and situation. Assisting clients who are in abusive situations, facing devastating circumstances linked to illness, finances or family dynamics can deplete the mental and emotional resilience of a Social Worker. Especially if the situation is reoccurring, long lasting or not easily resolved. They often suffer compassion fatigue and burnout.
How to Fortify and Boost Your Mental Health
Like physical fitness, mental health can be maintained. This doesn’t mean that we won’t incur injuries or challenges to our mental wellbeing, but it can make us less vulnerable and more able to recover if we do encounter problems. Additionally, by actively maintaining our mental health we are more aware of it and therefore more adept at identifying, then addressing challenges with our mental health.
10 Ways to Help Maintain Your Mental Health
Talk about your feelings, what you’ve encountered and how you have reacted to something you’ve witnessed or have been dealing with. A therapist or equivalently trained professional is often the right person to help you here, especially if there are confidentiality aspects at play.
2. Maintain social face-to-face connections
Having in-person time with someone else can be an important component when trying to maintain an equilibrium. If social interaction is not possible to do in person then try to video call with someone, this way you will still have visual contact with them. Seek someone out who is kind as well as patient and will listen to you without interruption, criticism or judgement.
3. Ditch the Screen and Pickup Your Comfy Shoes
Staying active is good for your brain. Going for a stroll or exercising can cause endorphins (happy chemicals) to be released in your brain, lift your mood and also your self-confidence.
4. Loose Yourself in Your Senses
Your nervous system responds well to sensory input. Figure out which sense is most likely to help you feel more centred, calmer and happier. If sounds speak to you, keep a few playlists on hand. Those who are more tactile often appreciate stress balls. While the smell of coffee or cinnamon grounds uplift others.
5. Prioritise Leisure Time
Set aside time to do the things that make you feel happy; such as walking through a favourite spot, reading a book or visiting a friend. These shouldn’t be things that you feel you should do or need to get to; they should just be things you innately enjoy and cost less or nothing.
6. Practise Gratitude
Make an effort to regularly put time aside to reflect on the good things that happen around and to you. Fostering an attitude of gratitude and rewiring your brain to a happiness default can have fantastic health benefits.
7. Back to Basics
Maintaining a good balance in life is especially important within a mental wellbeing context. Thus, continuously being mindful of the basics, like getting enough sleep, how much you drink to rehydrate as well as imbibe socially and eating a good diet, is a good habit to get into.
8. Enjoy Sunshine
Sunshine is a great source of vitamin D. This means that enjoying healthy time in the sunlight can help boost your mood, as vitamin D has been linked to serotonin and endorphin release as well as assisting with boosting immunity.
9. Remember Accomplishments
Generally, we tend towards remembering our mistakes and missed opportunities we wish we had taken. Making a concerted effort to pause and remember that you are actually good at things, small or big, is a good way to promote self-esteem and boost your mood. You can do this by congratulating yourself when you accomplish something, big or small by celebrating that achievement with a reward.
Wellbeing is linked with creative expression. You don’t need to be an artist to tap into this. Simply try a new recipe out, doodle a bit in a colouring-in-book. Or if you feel like a bit more of a creative challenge, take an art class or learn how to play a musical instrument. Do something interesting. Social workers are also human beings with socio-emotional needs.
Don’t pause on finding ways to fortify your mental health or asking for help. Speak out when you know you are battling with your mental health. It’s not about pre-empting a mental health illness or not being strong enough to overcome something. This is about acting in a responsible manner and doing what is best for your overall wellbeing, so that you can contribute effectively to society as well as enjoy life to its fullest. It’s admirable to step up and look after all aspects of your wellbeing, especially your mental health.
If you want to promote positive change, are highly motivated, passionate and self-directed, then enquire today and find out more about a Bachelor of Social Work. This degree is an honours equivalent professional degree. It will give you the opportunity to also explore multiple national and international academic pathways for a master’s degree in various specialised fields of social work, the social sciences or related fields.