The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an array of mental, physical, and emotional challenges for people throughout the world. Job loss, isolation, family stress, and profound medical emergencies are taking a serious toll on individuals and communities. Since social workers help people cope with everyday life issues and are prepared to step into high-stress and emergency situations, they’re needed more than ever during this precarious time.
To gather an accurate picture of the problem, consider these statistics:
- Employment in total non-farm positions decreased by 9.8 million from February 2020 to November 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
- In July 2020, 53% of U.S. adults said worry and stress related to coronavirus had a negative impact on their mental health, an increase from 39% in May 2020, KFF reports.
- Since the coronavirus, one in four young adults has struggled with suicidal thoughts, the “Washington Post” reports.
- In November 2020, Consumer Reports stated one in five American grocery shoppers (19%) has used a food bank, a food pantry, or community food distribution since the pandemic began. This is double the number who used those programs the previous year.
Tragically, hospitals around the country have reported being overwhelmed by patients needing care due to COVID-19. As of December 9, 2020, there were 286,000 deaths due to coronavirus. Numbers like these affect the family members and loved ones of victims, causing a far-reaching crisis.
Prior to the pandemic, the job outlook for social workers was already promising. Between 2019 and 2029, the BLS reports the job outlook for social workers is expected to grow 13%, a growth rate that’s much faster than average compared to all occupations. However, because of COVID-19, social workers in schools, welfare agencies, mental health clinics, hospitals, and beyond are even more in demand and are providing vital support to communities during these unprecedented times.
Here are just a few of the reasons why social workers are in-demand today and will continue to be as the country responds to crises like the pandemic.
Social Workers Provide Mental Health Assistance
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), sometimes known as clinical social workers, are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. These social workers provide therapeutic services in individual and group settings, helping clients to deal with adverse situations and psychological disorders.
According to KFF, in July 2020, 36 percent of adults reported difficulty sleeping and 32 percent of adults reported difficulty eating due to stress and worry because of the coronavirus. Mental health issues lead to physical consequences and vice-versa, creating a potentially vicious cycle that can impair one’s health and well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that stress can worsen chronic health problems and lead to increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
Social workers help clients maintain optimal mental health by providing them with counseling, coping strategies, and resources. Some social workers work in private practice, while others run community support groups. Clinical social workers may also work in settings like hospitals, collaborating with doctors and healthcare professionals on mental health strategies for patients.
Social Workers Connect Individuals with Employment Resources
Social workers play an instrumental role in helping clients find and prepare for meaningful careers. With 6.7 percent of the American population unemployed as of November 2020, many workers have experienced job loss, furloughs, or business closure during the pandemic.
Social workers can help in a variety of ways, from counseling individuals during their job search to locating professional resources, such as the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, and helping clients prepare for job interviews. They also help individuals fight discrimination at work, by advocating for policies that benefit the working poor.
Social Workers Mitigate Substance Abuse Risk
Social workers who specialize in substance abuse prevention and treatment help those who suffer from drug addiction and alcoholism. They help clients get the support they need to combat these challenges and work toward recovery, either in one-on-one or group settings. They might create treatment plans, provide resources for support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or refer clients to treatment centers.
A September 2020 survey of 1,000 Americans found 55 percent reported an increase in alcohol consumption the previous month, with 18 percent citing a significant increase. More than one-third of respondents (36%) reported an increase in illicit drug use.
The CDC warns that alcohol and substance use can lead to anxiety, depression, family problems, violence, decreased sleep quality, and chronic disease. Social workers help people cope with alcohol and substance abuse and face risk factors that may lead to addiction.
Social Workers Are Healthcare Advocates
Social workers are an integral part of the healthcare system. They help clients, and often their families, understand diagnoses and adapt via changes in lifestyle, healthcare, and housing. Social workers may work directly with clients in healthcare settings like assisted living care facilities or hospitals. They may also work with individuals and community groups who are experiencing healthcare issues.
Social workers frequently connect their clients with tools that support health and well-being, including access to affordable healthcare. Some social workers provide community education for health and well-being improvement. When families experience a loss due to illnesses like COVID-19, social workers may provide counseling services or resources for end of life arrangements.
Social Workers Support Families in Need
Stay-at-home orders have exacerbated negative situations for many families. According to the “New England Journal of Medicine,” the pandemic has led to a potential increase in intimate partner violence as victims are trapped with abusers. One indicator is that many domestic-violence hotlines have experienced a decrease in calls because victims haven’t been able to safely access those services.
Another factor affecting families are widespread school closures. In April 2020, “The American Journal of Public Health” reported that the number of weekly missed meals served at school reached 169.6 million.
In addition to missing out on healthy food served at school, kids are also experiencing increased rates of mental health issues. A May 2020 survey by Youth Liberty Squad & ACLU of SoCal found that 22 percent of students received mental health services before the pandemic, while 32 percent of students who were not receiving mental health services now say they need them.
During crises like the pandemic, school social workers continue to provide assistance even amid school closures. According to the School Social Work Association of America, school social workers during the pandemic:
- Connect families to local community resources to meet basic needs like food and safety
- Provide resources for mental telehealth services and referrals to help students with social and emotional needs
- Teach staff and teachers self-care strategies to maintain a healthy balance while serving students
- Support family stability and mitigate the risk of child abuse/neglect and domestic violence by providing community connections
- Engage students using community, family and group, and individualized interventions
- Provide grief, loss, and trauma-informed care
- Address issues of educational access, equity, and advocacy
Social workers have always sought to ensure families are supported during stressful times, by providing the resources and counseling they need to thrive amid crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
Social Workers: Always in Need
Social workers continue to be in high demand because so many diverse populations rely on their assistance for coping with everyday problems. Crises like the pandemic intensify many of the mental, physical, economic, and emotional problems people experience — and social workers are there to step in and help.
If you’re passionate about helping people and are interested in pursuing a career where you get to do that every day, you should consider becoming a social worker. Reach out to us at the Baylor School of Social Work to learn about earning a Master of Social Work degree that will enable you to help diverse populations in need.