Abstract: "We're Kind of on the Back Burner": Psychological Distress and Coping during COVID-19 (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

"We're Kind of on the Back Burner": Psychological Distress and Coping during COVID-19

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 13, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Terri Lewinson, PhD, Associate Professor, Georgia State University, GA
Tiffany Washington, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background: Healthcare social workers are essential members of interdisciplinary teams during pandemics. Their scope of practice typically includes case management, grief counseling, assessment, and resource procurement, as well as serving as liaison between patients, their families, and the healthcare system. Often these professional responsibilities require a negotiated commitment to the workplace, despite the emotional impact that ensues during a pandemic. Therefore, this study uses virtual platforms to support qualitative research methods to explore psychological distress experienced by social workers and coping strategies used by these professionals.

Methods: Participants were recruited using social media. After completing a pre-screen Qualtrics survey, participants selected an interview time using OnceHub, thereby generating a private zoom link that was automatically emailed to the participant. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 54 health care social workers. The zoom recordings were uploaded into Otter.ai for transcription. Data were analyzed using NVivo 12 to identify how pandemic-related policies in respective settings impacted their psychological well-being and specific coping strategies employed to overcome moments of distress.

Results: Factors related to psychological distress included chronic exposure to COVID-19 infection risk, inconsistent communication and contradictory policy changes, unethical institutional practices, restricted access to personal protective equipment, interdisciplinary task dumping. Social workers coped by cognitive reframing of stressful work events, engaging in home-based self-care activities, developing professional support networks, and resisting unethical institutional directives.

Conclusion: In light of the data collection barriers created by COVID-19, the use of virtual platforms for this qualitative inquiry allowed researchers to identify factors that related to essential health care social workers’ psychological distress and subsequent coping strategies. Findings from this study has implications for developing essential protocols for protecting the physical, psychological, and social wellbeing of social workers embedded in acute care and community health settings.