Stress and Depression in Ohio Social Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Buffering Role of Social Connectedness

Feb 3, 2023

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Although social workers have an elevated risk of infection with COVID-19, no previous studies have investigated the virus’s impact on practitioners.

An article in the February 2023 issue of the journal Health & Social Work addresses this gap in research. In the article, authors publish the results of a study that identified associations between stress, depression, and COVID-related factors and explored the role of social connectedness as a moderator for mental health among Ohio social workers. The results of the study showed that among social workers with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, 70 percent experienced moderate/high levels of stress, and 37 percent met the criteria for clinical depressive symptoms.

Results from the multiple regression analyses showed that perceived stress was positively associated with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for social workers, and depression was positively associated with working with a client with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. An interaction effect was also identified between social connectedness and social workers’ mental health.

These findings suggest that the provision of individual or organizational interventions that emphasize social connectedness can help to protect social workers’ mental health.

The authors conclude:

Among the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers have been tasked with rapidly transitioning to an entirely new service delivery format while providing clinical services in the midst of an unprecedented medical, behavioral, and mental health crisis. In regard to this environmental adversity, this study indicates that social workers have been experiencing high levels of stress and depression during theCOVID-19 era, and the results also showed that social connectedness can mitigate some negative mental health effects associated with COVID-19. These findings suggest that social connectedness improves social workers’ mental health in the pandemic environment, and it is therefore important that social workers are screened with accurate assessments for social connectedness, and that they are provided with appropriate levels of individual and organizational support to strengthen their social connectedness when a need is identified. It is also suggested that a longitudinal study be conducted to generalize the relationships between mental health and social connectedness among social workers. Finally, this study was conducted in the prevaccine era, and future work should explore the effects of vaccination and a reduction in mandatory quarantines on the mental health status of practicing social workers.

Authors of the study:

  • Daejun Park, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Social Work, College of Health Sciences and Professions, Ohio University, Athens, OH
  • Mingun Lee, PhD, associate professor, Department of Social Work, College of Health Sciences and Professions, Ohio University, Athens, OH
  • Kara Osborne, MSW, social worker, Athens, OH
  • Dane Minnick, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Social Work, Ball State University, Muncie, IN
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