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Mental Health Awareness week is on 13-19 May and Claire, a workforce wellbeing lead with Lewisham Children and Young People Directorate, explains why self-care is important in social work. She also shares some of the tools you can implement to look after your own mental health and wellbeing.

The desire to help others, especially families in need, is a powerful force that attracts many of us to the social work profession. The passion and values which underpin our motivation to work as social workers are usually strongly embedded in our personal and professional identities. We start off our career with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, wanting to bring about meaningful change for the families we work with. However, the trauma that many of us experience at work, alongside burnout and other work-related challenges, can all impact our mental and emotional wellbeing.

In social work, we speak a lot about ‘duty of care’ which essentially involves promoting the safety and wellbeing of individuals. While the duty of care to the children and families we support is undoubtedly important, it’s equally important for social workers to recognise the importance of caring for ourselves. The use of ‘self’ is an important element in our work with families, because the wellbeing of social workers and families are interlinked.

Social work is a profession that requires a lot of compassion, empathy and emotional investment. If we feel constantly stressed out or at risk of burnout, then we are not able to keep an open mind and to genuinely listen to the families we support. One of the ways we can do this is by implementing a self-care toolbox which we can regularly tap into, to take care of our own wellbeing. Some strategies which you might find helpful include:

Develop your emotional literacy: Emotional literacy means self-awareness, recognition of your own feelings and knowing how to manage them. Learn to recognise the physical signs like a racing heart or tense muscles that tell you when your overwhelmed or stressed, so you can do something about it.

Adopt a positive mindset: While we can possibly influence an outcome, we can’t always control them. It’s important to recognise what we can control and learn how to respond to situations beyond our control. Choose to adopt a positive mindset by reframing challenges as opportunities for you to implement change.

Practice self-compassion: Embrace your humanity by accepting that mistakes are inevitable. Be kind to yourself during these moments and cultivate a habit of offering positive affirmations as part of your self-care.

Stay connected: When we are overwhelmed, often the first thing we want to do is isolate ourselves from family, friends and loved ones. When these moments come, it’s so important to stay connected with others for support, advice and different perspectives.

Establish a good work life balance: It is important to be committed to prioritise the needs of both our personal and professional identities, by attending to our emotional, physical and social needs. We can do this by switching off from work at reasonable times, engaging in mindfulness practices and physical activities.

By embedding a self-care toolbox like this into your daily routine you can ultimately yield positive results in how you manage our lifestyle, strike a healthy work-life balance and will also impact how we continue to support children and their families.

Lewisham Council offers a range of wellbeing and therapeutic support services to encourage a work environment that promotes resilience, prevents burnout and enhances the overall wellbeing of staff who are dedicated to support the needs of children and their families.

Lewisham Council – Careers in children’s social care