Celebrate Social Workers: National Social Work Month

Celebrated each March, National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity for social workers across the country to turn the spotlight on their profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society…. We celebrate the contributions of social workers during National Social Work Month in March.

Elevate Social Workers

Who are Social Workers, and what do they do?

Social workers are responsible for helping individuals, families, and groups of people to cope with problems they’re facing to improve their lives. Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and support families in need of assistance. Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

Social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers(LCSW). They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master’s social workers(MSW).

Requirements to be a social worker vary by state, but most states require social workers to be licensed, registered, or certified in their field. For example, it generally requires taking an exam and completing at least two years of supervised clinical experience.

Retrieved on March 5, 2019 from The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers,  https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm 

Are you working with a social worker? Do you know someone who is in the field? Make a point of giving them a shout out and a big thank you for all they do to benefit others.

Myth or Fact

Continuing our focus on social workers, here are some myths and truths about mental health issues.

Myth: Mental health issues are rare.
Fact: Mental health issues are not rare and affect nearly everyone either directly or indirectly.

Myth: People with mental health issues are unable to lead productive lives.
Fact: Most people with a mental health issue respond to treatment, learn to cope with and manage their problems, and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Myth: People who have mental health conditions will not get better.
Fact: Once diagnosed, mental health issues are treatable. While they are not always cured, they can be managed effectively. Most people with mental health conditions live productive and positive lives while receiving treatments for their mental health issues. As is the case with any illness, individuals with severe or persistent mental health conditions who respond poorly to available treatments may require more support and may not function as highly as others.

Myth: People with serious mental health issues are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: While some people who suffer from serious mental health issues do commit antisocial acts, mental health issues do not equal criminality or violence – despite the media’s tendency to emphasize a suspected link. People with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violence than anyone in the general public, but they are more likely to be victimized and are more likely to inflict violent behaviors on themselves.

Myth: Mental health issues happen because of bad parenting or personal weakness.
Fact: The main risk factors for mental health issues are not bad parenting or personal weakness but rather genetics, severe and prolonged stress (such as physical or sexual abuse), or other environmental influences (such as birth trauma or head injury).

Myth: Treatments for mental health issues are not usually effective.
Fact: The effectiveness of any treatment depends on a number of factors including the type of mental health issue and the particular needs of the individual. A combination of psychiatric medication and psychotherapy, or social interventions is the most effective way to treat mental health issues.

Myth: Mental health conditions are caused by everyday stressors.
Fact: It may seem that stress is responsible for mental health conditions; however, there is no one clear cause of mental health issues. Rather, it is a result of complex interactions between psychological, biological, genetic, and social factors. Stress, stigma, and lack of support can make it worse on the individual.

Myth: Mental health issues are always hereditary.
Fact: Some mental health issues include a genetic component, which results in a predisposition or vulnerability toward the mental health problems among children and siblings, but environment also plays a key role in the development of certain conditions. If someone in one’s family has a mental health condition, that person will be a higher risk.

Managing Moods

People become sad for a variety of reasons including disappointment, grief, frustration at not being able to accomplish a project or not getting what’s desired, experiencing despair during holiday seasons, etc. When these feelings of sadness and/or dysphoric moods last for hours and even days, they may not be a cause for concern. These feelings are part of the normal “ups” and “downs” of life. It is common for people to feel blue or down, become frustrated and/or experience a sense of emptiness from time to time.

However, a sad mood which won’t let up can change the way people think and feel and may be a sign of a more serious mood problem. When people find themselves for several weeks taking little joy in activities they have previously enjoyed, appear irritable a majority of the time, and feel fatigue and a general loss of energy, they may be experiencing the symptoms of more serious problems.

These more serious mood problems stretch far beyond the normal limits of disappointment, loss, frustration, and joylessness. Mood problems can be accompanied by an inability to cope with everyday life issues and stressors. Rather than temporary feelings of down in the dumps, these extreme feelings tend to last for more than a few hours or days. These feelings tend to affect all aspects of a person’s life and leave the person feeling empty, unable to move, and hopeless for weeks, months and even years.

People who experience problems in maintaining a balanced and healthy overall mood are often incapable of functioning well in daily life. They often experience extreme emotional states, negative feelings, and self-defeating moods that are inconsistent with what is happening in their environment. People struggling with this mental condition find that they are unable to conquer their moodiness in the workplace, at home, with family and friends, at school, and in their community. People who experience moodiness have problems in interpersonal relationships, ability to work effectively, study and concentrate, and in the ways they eat, sleep, relax and live their daily lives.

Types of Serious Mood Inconsistencies for the Facilitator

Many different types of mood disturbances are conveyed and expressed in different forms.

  • Major depression (often referred to as unipolar depression) involves a profoundly sad mood and a high probability of distorted depressive thinking that occur over time.

Some of the additional symptoms:

• A persistent, sad mood most of the day accompanied by feeling empty
• Experiencing a significant reduction in appetite and weight loss when not dieting, or increased appetite and weight gain
• Sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or an inability to sleep (insomnia)
• Feelings of inadequacy
• Racing thoughts and impulsive behaviors
• Hostility or aggression
• Feelings of agitation or feelings of restlessness
• Fatigue, loss of energy or feelings of being slowed down
• Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
• Diminished ability to think or concentrate, remember things or be decisive
• Constant feelings of anxiety or feelings of irritability
• Loss of interest in activities, or a decrease in pleasure in activities once enjoyed
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, digestive problems
• Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others

  • Bipolar depression involves an alteration (like a roller-coaster ride) of down feelings (depression) and up feelings (excessive and often inappropriate euphoric), rapid speech and hyperactivity.

Some additional symptoms:

• Cycles of elation and depression
• Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others
• Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
• Decrease in the need for sleep
• Flight of ideas
• Distractibility
• Increased engagement in risky behavior

  • Milder forms of depression carry detectable symptoms and impact daily activities in ways that demonstrate a diminished interest in things people usually find interesting or enjoyable.

Some of these types of mood disturbances:

• Dysthymia – Person has a mild depression that lingers for more than two years. For people with dysthymia, life has little pleasure and they tend to be cranky, irritable, and testy.
• Postpartum Depression – Person experiences depression after childbirth. Sometimes called baby blues, this type of depression may be associated with psychological and physical factors.
• Seasonal Affective Disorder – Person experiences depression with seasonal changes in climate and light.

Depression from unknown origins includes feelings of sadness and emptiness, low energy, and a lack of interest that occurs naturally when experiencing change or stress in life. Unlike the feelings of sadness and moodiness that are part of everyday life, many people are often unable to deal with their feelings of sadness and moodiness and their feelings last much longer. The mood is accompanied by feelings of irritability and hostility, a growing sense of fatigue, and a sense of hopelessness about the future.

Sources of Serious Mood Inconsistencies (Click here for a reproducible handout)
Where do disturbances in mood originate? Why do some people experience changes in mood and moodiness, while others do not? That is not an easy question to answer. Because mood inconsistencies are very complex in nature, they usually do not originate from one source. Rather, many things can lead to mood disturbances in people, and often it is not one of the following sources, but a combination of several sources.

Negative Thinking
Distorted, maladaptive, and irrational thinking can cause and enhance feelings of sadness and moodiness. A thorough examination should be conducted of a participant’s thought processes as they relate to and affect feelings.

Genetics and Biology
Family history can influence one’s predisposition to moodiness. A complete medical and psychological history should be completed to identify family members who may also have experienced periods of sadness.

Uncontrollable Situations
Situations in which people find themselves unable to control the outcomes can enhance feelings of sadness, a loss of interest, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. An examination of the situations in which participants experience feelings of moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

Life Events
An inability to cope with major stressors can be a factor in moodiness. Some of the major stressors that often precede mood disturbances include separation and divorce, traumatic shock, legal troubles, feeling stuck in a situation without an exit, loss of a loved one, and loss of a job. An examination of the life events that may be causing sadness and moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

Medical Conditions
People who have medical conditions often experience mood disturbances as a secondary symptom. A participant’s medical history can reveal conditions that might induce a mood problem and should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.

People often experience mood problems from chronic use of alcohol and drugs. An examination of a participant’s drug and alcohol abuse should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.

Lack of Social Support
People who have access to a social support system are much less likely to experience severe and extended bouts of sadness. An examination of participant’s support system should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

External Causes of Moodiness

Moodiness develops from a variety of external causes. By becoming more aware of some of the external causes of depressed moods, a plan can be developed to overcome them. Some of the external causes of depressed moods are:

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of social support
  • Recent stressful life experiences
  • Family history of depression
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Financial strain
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse
  • Unemployed or not satisfied with job
  • Health problems or chronic pain
  • Loss of loved one(s)

Click here for an exercise to help clients recognize external causes of depression.

*Excerpted from Managing Moods by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

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