The Covid-19 pandemic is not just a historic public health crisis. It is an economic and mental health crisis unlike anything in recent memory.
Social workers have played an indispensable role in helping people cope with the most devastating consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Their efforts will be just as crucial in the months and years to come, as we move into a post-COVID-19 world.
The impact of the pandemic on our collective mental health has been staggering, especially due to social isolation and loss. More than four in ten adults now report symptoms of anxiety and depression. Drug overdoses have increased and an increase in domestic violence has been a terrible consequence of orders for people to stay at home.
Many more people are homeless. The economic slowdown induced by the pandemic will add more 600,000 working-age adults to our homeless population by 2023, concludes the report of the economic roundtable “Locked Out”.
Fortunately, a robust vaccination campaign is likely to eradicate the virus, hopefully this year. But the other challenges raised and exacerbated by the pandemic will remain long after we achieve collective immunity.
This is where the more than 700,000 American social workers come in. They serve our most vulnerable on the front lines of the pandemic.
Think about those who specialize in mental and behavioral health. During the pandemic, they treated many of their patients remotely through telehealth. They have also been key providers of care and crisis response in hospitals and other health care settings, often serving as a primary source of support for families bereaved by loved ones who have died from COVID-19.
Social workers have also been instrumental in caring for those who have suffered collateral damage as a result of the pandemic. As social service specialists, they’ve helped homeless Americans find housing, laid-off workers apply for unemployment benefits, children and families find stability, and low-income people connect to food banks and clinics. community centers.
In other words, social workers have been just as essential as other healthcare professionals during the pandemic. They have put their own health at risk in response to the crisis in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters and elsewhere.
It is time for public servants to recognize and support their work. They can start by reducing the financial burden on social workers. Social workers with graduate degrees often leave graduate school with approximately $ 66,000 in debt. These loans are difficult to repay with an average starting salary of around $ 50,000. Federal funding for student loan debt relief and cancellation can provide much-needed support.
Fortunately, congressional social workers are defending legislation to promote adequate compensation. For example, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Social Worker, and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) Co-sponsored legislation that would increase reimbursement rates for clinical social workers.
Ensuring a safer working environment for social workers should also be a top priority. Social workers are five times more likely to be injured on the job than people working in other sectors. Legislation led by social worker Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Who funds the implementation of workplace safety measures, could help protect these workers, even in the most hazardous environments.
It is also essential to strengthen federal funding for schools of social work at historically black colleges and universities.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected black, brown and indigenous communities, which have suffered higher rates of hospitalizations, deaths and economic conflict. Research shows that members of these communities are more comfortable receiving care from healthcare professionals from similar backgrounds. Diversifying the body of health care providers, including social workers, by recruiting more people of color into these careers can help reduce the disparities exposed by the pandemic.
The societal consequences of COVID-19 will outlast the virus itself and could prove even more deadly in the long term. Social workers can help prevent this from happening. But they need the country’s support to do this.
Angelo McClain is CEO of the National Association of Social Workers and a licensed independent clinical social worker.