A Reflection on Mental Health in Social Work by Rayia Gaddy

Being a Social Worker can be a demanding, underappreciated, and misrepresented profession. Throughout graduate school, our professors and mentors stressed the importance of self-care. I remember talking with my peers about how tiring it was to hear, “Make sure you take care of yourself” and “Remember to set boundaries with your job. Be sure to take time off work.” We thought they were overexaggerating the amount of time we would give to our career daily and the emotional toll it would take on our mental health. They were not. 

They were also not wrong about the misperceptions of what a social worker is. Many people believe social workers just “take peoples’ kids away” or “determine who is eligible for food stamps.” The reality is in crisis situations, sometimes social workers do have the right to remove kids for their safety, and there are social workers who determine SNAP (what does this mean?) benefits. However, that is not all social workers do.

Every day, we provide resources, as well as eradicate barriers to those in underserved populations. Daily, we provide safety options. We walk the journey of addiction recovery and engage in mental health counseling. Every day, Social Workers advocate for equity and equality for everyone regardless of race, sexuality, gender identity, religion, cultural background, immigration status, or criminal past.

Being a Social Worker is truly a unique, humbling, and empowering profession. Truthfully, I initially struggled with my choice to pursue this career. I did not think I would be able to help people the way I thought they needed. It was disappointing to me that Social Workers were not given the praise and accolades I felt they deserved. But, I chose to continue down this path because it aligned with my life’s principal “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu means, “I am because you are.” Both Ubuntu and social work focuses on the power of community. We all share this earth and are impacted by each other. It was not until I started working in the field when I began to understand the importance of individual and group collaboration to build, heal, and progress communities.

Author Marianne Williamson once said, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Life can become so overwhelming at times that we as people forget that we either have the skills to succeed or have the compacity to learn such skills. We become so caught up in what we perceive we cannot do, that we forget we have overcome challenges in our lives. We would not be here today if we did not. 

Social Workers are one of the few professions trained to help others recognize their potential for greatness. Social Workers help people identify what it is that makes them resilient. Williamson went on to say, “it is not just in some of us, it is in EVERYONE.” Being a social worker, I am challenged every day to use my skills and talents to empower others. Helping people creates positive ripple effects in their own lives and ignites a chain reaction of growth in the whole community.

We become so caught up in what we perceive we cannot do, that we forget we have overcome challenges in our lives.

So, while being a Social Worker can be a demanding, misrepresented, and an underappreciated profession, it is also UNIQUE, HUMBLING, and EMPOWERING. President Barack Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” I am so blessed to be a part of a profession whose focus is creating and promoting change for the advancement of individuals, their communities, and the world.