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Mental Health Awareness!

Did you know May is Mental Health Month?  May is designated to highlight the discussion of mental health and helping fight stigma.   The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that over 43 million adults live with a mental illness every year – that is approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States.  This means that you know many people who are struggling with mental health issues.  If you are in a helping profession you are likely encountering many individuals whose mental health is affecting their day to day life.

What can you do to promote mental health awareness and your own mental health?

mental health awareness

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Social Workers and Professional Grief

Although social workers often see the very best of people, there is no doubt that the average worker also sees much sadness and struggle. Some social workers practice among poverty and violence.  Some work with individuals who are physically ill or dying.  It is safe to say that social workers treat an array of people and problems.

This sadness can add up.  I supervise a team of care coordinators who work with individuals who have high acuity of physical and/or mental health needs.  They are transitioning clients from a long term setting into the community.  Although they see lots of success, they encounter loss each day.  They listen to people’s stories which are wrought with loss.  They watch people relapse into addiction.  They watch individuals deteriorate physically and sometimes decompensate mentally.  They have clients die under both expected and unexpected circumstances.  This can be wearing on workers.  When we experience loss we often feel grief.  Grief is one of those uncomfortable feelings we often try to avoid.

Most of us understand personal loss.  Personal loss includes things like a death of family or a loved one.  It may be loss of a pet, a job or of a dream.  It may be loss of an idea or transition to another stage of life or a divorce.   We deal with personal loss by using our support system and talking about it.  We have rituals and memorials.  We use self-care.  Much of our personal life is seen by people we love so there is support.  It can be somewhat different for professional loss.

Professional loss is what we experience in our work lives with clients.  It is different from personal loss because the relationships are different and often we don’t stop and take a moment to acknowledge and grieve.   Professional losses are often internalized.  It is possible we might go home and say we had a rough day or maybe even say a client died but we can’t share much of our experiences with family and friends so we miss out on the support you would get when family and friends are sharing the loss with you.

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What is stopping you?

Happy Social Work Month!  March is recognized as the month to celebrate Social Workers.

So if you are one of the almost 600,000 social workers or working toward being one, make sure to celebrate a little!

If you are thinking about becoming a social worker or really if you are thinking about furthering your education in any area – What is stopping you?

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Favorite Ted Talks for Social Workers

Ted talks are on such an array of subjects.   There are several that I have assigned to clients in my private practice and there are a few I’ve used in training with the team of care coordinators I supervise.    In our time-crunched world, sometimes a 10 minute or more video seems impossibly long.  I would encourage you to take some time and watch some talks that interest you.  Below are some of my favorite talks that I think are beneficial for social workers and those who are interested in social work.   Whatever topic you may be interested in – I bet you find it in TED talks.

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Social Worker as Therapist

Maybe Social Work as a career has appealed to you, but you have doubts if the field is a good fit  because you want to be a therapist.  The mental health field is riddled with different fields of study that lead to a career as a therapist.  These disciplines often overlap but each one has their own strength to bring to the table when treating clients.

Can a social worker’s training prepare them to be a clinical therapist?  The answer is yes!  As a social worker, I admit bias, but there are many reasons being a social worker makes for a fantastic therapist.

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Social Work Practice and Spirituality

As the New Year begins, many of us look to the hopeful possibilities of the future.  The New Year can be a catalyst to start over and grasp the future that will serve us best.   I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I was thinking about what I could focus on in my clinical practice, in order for me to be a better social work practitioner.  I was looking not to be a better employee or business owner but a better social worker.

I decided to focus on doing a better job of bringing spirituality into my social work practice.  Even though social workers are trained to look at the whole person, for some reason, it seems like a lot of social workers have difficulty including spirituality in their services.  Clinicians do a great job with the mind and body part of a person but falter a bit at spirituality.

Social workers are often confident with working with a diverse population so why is religious or spiritual preference any different?  Maybe a social worker is worried about offending their client.  They may be comfortable asking personal questions about their client’s sex life but spiritual life – not so much.  Sometimes social workers are so cognizant of not proselytizing or pushing their own beliefs on their client, that they just avoid asking the questions.   One I’ve been guilty of in the past is to avoid the question because I don’t want the client to feel like I’m judging them if they say they don’t have any spiritual practices.   Some social workers may just feel like they don’t have the knowledge of the individual’s religion or spirituality to provide guidance.

The field of social work has been getting better, overall, including spirituality.  Virtually any assessment tool that you find today will have questions on people’s spirituality.  Time and experience have taught social work that a person’s spiritual beliefs not only help them feel whole but can be a strength.  A person’s spiritual beliefs may give them hope or confidence for the future.  A person’s spiritual beliefs might give them a sense of belonging or connection to the community.

Conversely, sometimes there may be shame involved with religious beliefs or other barriers.  A person’s identity and history is wrapped up in their spiritual beliefs.  If we fail to ask about someone’s spirituality we are missing a part of them we may be able to help heal.

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Social Work – So Much to Love!

With Thanksgiving just behind us and continuing in the holiday season, many of us take time to express thanks and feel gratitude about the bounty we have.  Most of us are thankful for our families, friends and other loved ones.  We feel thankful for the health we may have, the material things we have acquired, laughter, children, moments of joy, and even just being alive

People often say they are thankful to have a job and a way to provide for themselves and those they love.   I rarely hear people say they are thankful for the career they have chosen because it ignites their passions.  My wish for everyone is not only do they have a job that pays the bills but a career that gratifies and feeds their soul.  I am grateful to have found that career in social work.  If you are thinking about becoming a social worker, are a social worker or even know a social worker, check below for the list of reasons I am grateful for this calling.

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Assisting Individuals with a diagnosis of Mental Illness

As a social worker, you often work with vulnerable and struggling clients.  One such group, you may work with are individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.  Mental Illness does not discriminate.  Any population you work with, will likely have some people living their life with mental illness.  Sometimes because of media portrayals and other misconceptions, working with people diagnosed with mental illness can be scary or daunting.

There are many types of mental illness. The DSM-V (where the criteria for different mental health diagnoses is listed) has about 991 pages.

Below are some basic definitions of common diagnosis you might come across.

One definition of Mental Illness I like is from the Mayo Clinic

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions —disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.

                                        (www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental…/definition/con-20033813)

 

I like this definition because it normalizes mental health issues.  Mental health conditions run on a continuum.  Just like people, mental illness is complicated and some people struggle with more difficult issues than others.

Specific Diagnosis Definitions (Also using the definitions from the Mayo Clinic.)

  • Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness
  • Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking.                                                                                           (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/basics/definition/con-20021077)

Those are just some of the diagnoses you may come across in your work.  Let me share some tips for a social worker to remember when working with this population.

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You are a Tea Pot. (Guide to self-care for Social Workers and Everyone else!)

A weird phenomenon in a society that is so much instant gratification and making sure “I” get my fair is that individuals are notoriously bad at self-care.  Individuals take their responsibilities seriously and want to do great jobs at being a Social Worker, Parent, Friend, Caretaker or son or daughter, that all energy is focused on this task.  It is admirable to live up to responsibilities and care for others, but there are pitfalls to not also focusing on self.

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Technology, Social Media and the Social Worker

nature-laptop-outside-macbookSocial workers run the gamut on technology and social media.  Some hate it and some love it.  I love it!  If you are reading this article – you are participating in it.  My personal opinion is that technology is the way of the world and we can embrace and utilize it or be left behind.

Social media assists the social worker with connecting with others.  People spend a lot of time on their computers and smart phones.   Social Media helps you market your practice and lets your clients know who you are.  I don’t know how many times someone said to me “Your website was so welcoming” or “the quotes you put on Facebook really help me be more positive.”  It humanizes you and you can share your message with others.

Social Media also opens up a path to communicating with other professionals.  There are therapists in different states that I have never met in person but I have shared dialogue with and learned from.  It allows for perspectives outside of just our immediate circle.  Randomly, it has also helped me engage with my adolescent clients.  In the world of technology I am old!  The youth I see teach me about different sites and apps and it helps build rapport.  (I would have no idea how to use or even what snapchat is if it weren’t for my adolescent clients!!!)

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