Social Work Programs

September 18, 2011

Social Workers Suffering From Depression

social workers and depression There is an interesting podcast interview between host, Dr Jonathan Singer, LCSW and Mark Meier, LCSW discussing how common depression is in social workers. Social workers are actually 3 times more likely to be depressed than others.

Mark said, “I think the nature of the job itself lends itself to being at risk for depression. We work in stressful environments, we have high caseloads, we often have unrealistic demands placed on us by the public, the organizations that we work for, to solve problems that are life long in developing and we are given 30 days to fix them. You know we work in threatening and dangerous environments, and I think when you add all of that together what you come up with Jonathan is a picture of ongoing stress and what we know is that when we don’t manage our stress well, whether you want to call it burnout or compassion fatigue or what you choose to call it, I think what it is most of the time is depression, and there is such a growing body of literature demonstrating that link between stress, you know unremitting stress, and depression.” I don’t remember this being discussed in social work grad school and at the jobs I’ve had, there haven’t been in-depth discussions about it though of course phrases such as stress and burnout are used .


One thing I’ve noticed is that often therapists want to be the one analyzing and not analyzed. It is hard to be on the spot and the training involves always being the caretaker and not the one that has needs or requires help. This is paradoxical as social workers will discuss the issues of burnout and exhaustion but delving into depression itself seems more difficult. Perhaps it is due to fear of vulnerability. Although the article states this that males have a hard time with expressing this. I wanted to add that Mark wrote that he suffered from depression before becoming a social worker. This brings up the additional question of whether those that know this state may be interested in going into counseling or becoming a social worker .

The interesting thing I find is that you are actually a better therapist in being honest. I have found that is that clients actually can relate more when you are honest and say that you understand what it is to have a bad day or feel discouraged than giving pep talks or positioning yourself outside of the emotions. No one really wants someone who is acting like an academic person or having a fake smile face.

In Mark’s case, he went through hospitalization and now is involved in educating others and speaking at social work programs about the issues of depression in social workers. This is an important thing for msw students to hear as well as those working professionally in the community. You can hear the podcast here: Social Work Podcast Interview.

He speaks about how you aren’t present to the clients if you suffer from depression and also that others didn’t point out to him his condition which was pretty severe despite the happy persona face.

Mark also goes into students’ fears of discussing depression in their grad programs due to fear of being asked to leave school. This is an important area to look at and one that is not spoken about too much as often it is just discussed as burnout or fatigue.

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