Increase in number of social workers struggling with mental health issues during Covid-19

Data shows vacancies for social workers have almost doubled since the start of the pandemic, while the Australian Association of Social Workers says the sector will need to grow by 15% over the next three years to meet demand .

Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of the Orygen Youth Mental Health Service, says that since the start of the pandemic, the number of people affected by poor mental health is four times higher than those who have been infected with Covid- 19.

“This phantom pandemic is not going to go away like the real pandemic,” McGorry says, ahead of World Social Work Day on Tuesday.

“Just in North West Melbourne you have a thousand people on waiting lists – young women with anorexia, people with psychosis (and) suicidal people.”

Compounding worker shortages, McGorry says many social workers are being redeployed to help with the Covid response, such as filling out paperwork at vaccination centres.

AASW chief executive Cindy Smith says social workers are needed in child welfare, schools, aged care, hospitals, disability services and health community.

“Recent Royal Commissions into Elder Care, Disability and Veteran Suicides and Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have shown how much support is needed to help those affected,” she says. .

“These are all areas that social workers work in and the results of all of these investigations will require responses from social work.”

It is possible to specialize in areas such as family and domestic violence, palliative care or drug and alcohol abuse, while social workers are also a vital part of response teams dealing with natural disasters and climate change, Smith said.

UniSA’s social work program director, Patricia Muncey, says non-clinical roles are available to help influence future policy outcomes.

“If you are working in the area of ​​homelessness, for example, rather than working individually, you can explore what resources are needed for homeless people or how to enable them to cope if they are homeless for a long time” , ‘ she says.

Good job prospects for social work graduates are assured.

“If you’re willing to go to the countryside, it’s basically a guarantee that you’ll get a job,” says Muncey.

Australian Education Union President Correna Haythorpe said more social workers are needed to address the challenges caused by homeschooling during the pandemic.

“Remote learning has increased the sense of isolation that many children have felt, but they are also deeply worried about Covid, if they are safe or if they will get sick,” she says.

“Unfortunately we don’t think support in schools is at the level it should be and there is a real risk of children falling through the cracks.”

A strong demand for workers

The demand for social workers is so high that Carmen Tong was able to find work even before she graduated.

Tong took on a complex social worker position with the Australian Red Cross while completing her Masters in Social Work at UniSA.

After graduating, she moved on to a community financial inclusion worker position with Uniting Communities before eventually joining the philanthropic Wyatt Trust as Grants and Administration Manager.

Her work involves helping other social workers apply for grants for their clients, as well as conducting training sessions and grant evaluations.

“Financial hardship and declining mental health are certainly one of the most apparent impacts caused by the pandemic,” says Tong, who was one of the rising star finalists for the SA Social Worker of the Year Awards. last year.

“I started volunteering for the Red Cross when I was in primary school. The idea of ​​giving back to society and helping the most vulnerable members of our community are deeply rooted traits that have underpinned my academic and professional choices.

“Knowing that I can make an impact on someone’s life, even as small as listening to people’s stories and seeing the smiles on people’s faces, makes me feel like all my work and effort are worth it.”

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