By Dr Elsha Hermann
The never-ending feeling that you as a social worker must handle everything, plus at the same time the expectation of others that you must be able to handle everything, leaves most of us social workers in a hole. A deep, black hole. Sometimes we fall so deep into the hole that we have trouble climbing back out.
Social workers, like any other person, sometimes just need to hear a thank you. We sometimes do find that single person who is thankful, but most of the time we get no thank you. That makes it difficult to be a social worker. And that is why it is so important to discuss our mental health with our loved ones, supervisors and families. The Occupational Guild for Social Workers is also a wonderful platform where we can share our thoughts with one another.
Mental health moves along a continuum and is not a constant feeling. For that reason burnout can be experienced at any life stage. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by continuous, excessive stress. It happens when you are feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained and have to fulfil constant demands. When the stress continues, you start to lose all interest and motivation, especially in the everyday tasks. Burnout can happen as a result of your workload, but also because of the nature of cases to be investigated.
A feeling of helplessness, depression, scepticism and irritability takes over. This feeling also has a physical effect on your body and can become so bad that you may start to feel apathetic and as if you have nothing to offer other people any longer.
This feeling is carried over into your personal life and it may feel as if everything is falling apart.
Because of the secretion of the hormone adrenalin, this feeling can cause long-term changes in your body and you will be more susceptible to diseases such as colds and flu.
During burnout a person cannot continue working. Such a person must be given sick leave and the necessary medication must be prescribed by a medical doctor. It is not a shame; merely your body telling you, “Stop! Take things more slowly.” Listen to your body before it is too late.
There are various questionnaires on the internet that you can answer to determine whether you are experiencing burnout.
You can test your level of burnout at these two links: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.palibraries.org/resource/collection/9E7F69CE-5257-4353-B71B-905854B5FA6B/Self-CareBurnoutSelf-Test.pdf
Discuss the questionnaire with a colleague and compile a list of work-related stress factors; then try to find solutions to prevent burnout.
More about the author: Elsha Hermann
Dr Elsha Hermann is a play therapist in private practice and works for Solidarity Helping Hand. Visit www.helpendehand.co.za or send Dr Hermann an email at email@example.com