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Protecting our mental health

Blog by Ruth Allen, CEO BASW

As we come to the end of a week of articles and online activities to mark World Mental Health Day, which took place on 10th October, I want to focus on how, as social workers, we can protect and cherish our own and each other’s mental health that bit more.

I have been reflecting on this a lot this week – and particularly on how Covid 19 has a lesson for us all in that our physical, social and mental wellbeing are interlinked – and that we deny that at our peril.

You may well be feeling that you would quite like not to have yet another blog or article about Covid 19. But bear with me.  As in the best of reflective social work, there is an opportunity to restore and strengthen hope and positivity about the future through recognising what we are learning about ourselves, individually and collectively, through these adverse times.

The virus is exposing in the starkest ways how any of us can be mentally and socially affected by the state of our physical wellbeing.  Getting ill, perhaps needing invasive physical treatments, having long term symptoms and health limitations - these all directly affect mental wellbeing.

But we are as much affected by this microscopic virus’s wider, social and economic affects; by loss, uncertainty, fear, trauma, change, isolation, by not being able to be such social beings, by inequality and injustice, by anger, poverty and not being able to make and realise our plans, by worrying about those we care about.

There is so much to reflect on and learn right now. Making time to do that when there are so many pressing concerns and worries can be hard. Social workers in particular – through the nature of our work and through our tendency to dogged commitment – can be very good at putting themselves last.  

But I suggest we all have a commitment to ourselves and to each other to apply social work reflection to how we feel in our minds, our bodies and in our social relations. Take a bit of time to focus on how these are interconnected within ourselves, uniquely, and how this is part of our shared experience as people and as social workers.

Like many I am sure, I feel the uncertainty and risks we are living with in my moods, in how I think and in my relationships with others.  And I feel it as much in my body as in my mind and emotions because our physical health, our social health and our mental health are inextricably intertwined. It’s certainly not all bad – but it is definitely very different.

Taking a bit of time to focus on just how different the world has become, and noticing, appreciating  the strengths you are using to deal with it every day - can be restorative. However you do it, just taking a bit of quality time to reflect on you, with self-compassion and appreciation, is a vital part of all our social worker toolkits.