by Rebecca Smith, Head of Child Protection Programmes, Save the Children International
In honour of World Mental Health Day on the 10th of October, I attended a Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in Rome where senior leaders from around the world were placing a spotlight on issues related to mental health. As we celebrate the Social Service Workforce this week, a workforce absolutely critical for supporting the mental health of individuals and communities, it is vital that we also address their own mental health and the systems and structure that help them succeed.
At Save the Children, our staff and partners provide services in some of the most sensitive and insecure locations you can imagine. On a daily basis they face devastating, highly stressful, and sometimes life-threatening situations which directly affect their own psychosocial wellbeing.
Suzan Akwii, our Child Protection Specialist in the Syria response, stated that staff working in camps in AlHol North East Syria, commonly report sleep disturbances, anxiety and panic, nightmares, and mood disturbances which if unattended could result in chronic mental health issues. This is not unique. According to a new report by the WHO at least a quarter of health and care workers surveyed reported anxiety, depression and symptoms of burnout.
Globally there is a need to reduce the stigma around mental health and to promote and scale up approaches to improve the care of the global social service workforce. As Rasha al Hosain, a mental health and psychosocial support youth advocate stated so eloquently, “It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to seek help. It’s okay to heal.”
Save the Children has been developing a global competency framework on what it means to be a child protection professional and a key component of this is how to support their own staff with the challenges they face. Supportive supervision is a vital component to helping workers to reflect on what is both inside and outside of their own control. Supervisors can help staff to think through complex cases and also reflect on how they are coping and when they may need time off or additional support.
According to Lo Leang, the Head of Child Protection in Save the Children Cambodia, “Just by talking about the challenges, it is a relief – because some of the challenges are structural. It can help the case workers make sense of the complexity and remember why they are doing what they do – instead of internalising the challenges.” In a video created by the Better Care Network, Lo reflected that despite the importance of supervision, it is often overlooked, particularly where social work is a new or emerging profession. This learning helped to inform and develop a structured social work supervision training programme in Cambodia and fed into the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance (2020) Guidance Manual on Strengthening Supervision for the Social Service Workforce.
Supporting the mental health of staff also means looking at the structural challenges they are facing, ensuring that there are adequate staff to client ratios and that we continue to advocate for legislative and policy changes that are needed.
Empowering the social service workforce with power and agency to help be advocates not only encourages much needed change, but also supports their own ability to take action and feel like they are making a difference.
Global spotlights, like World Mental Health Day and the Social Service Workforce week provide the opportunity to champion our unsung social service workforce and make sure the resources and capacity is there to support the mental health of those supporting children, families and communities.
 Qatar Foundation, World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO). 2022. Our duty of care: A global call to action to protect the mental health of health and care workers.