Mental Health Resources for North Carolina’s Social Workers

Written by Jack Levinson

social worker group therapy

Long before there was an expression for “self-care,” social workers understood that processing their feelings and experiences was a necessary way to sustain their emotionally taxing work in the long term. After all, the day to day life of a social worker can mean devoting your energy to helping individuals in crisis, having experiences that can take a lot out of you.

The responsibilities of a social worker can be intense and overwhelming. It’s crucial to build time into your life to make sure your own needs are met.

Fortunately, as self-care has become a norm for anyone juggling work-life balance, more and more resources have become available to help people find the restorative strategies that best work for them. There has also been a great upsurge in resources designed specifically for social workers, whose experiences frequently overlap with one another but may differ from those in other professions.

This guide will provide comprehensive information on the mental health resources available to support social workers in North Carolina and the rest of the country. If you are just at the beginning of your social work journey, it’s a great idea to put some of these into practice at the outset of your career to ensure that you are building a sustainable path for yourself in the long term.

The Unique Mental Health Needs of Social Workers

Most social workers gravitate to the profession out of a desire to help others and address grave injustices in our society. For those who feel called to the profession, this work is deeply rewarding, allowing you to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Many who do this work feel connected to a higher purpose, which is a deep and meaningful benefit of this job.

However, helping those who are confronting hardships often means facing difficult and upsetting situations oneself. From working with those experiencing the harshest impacts of poverty to supporting those who are struggling with chronic mental illness, it’s not uncommon for social workers to witness tragedies up close. Accounting for these distressing experiences is crucial to maintaining one’s strength and sense of purpose as a social worker.

As people who devote their lives to helping others, social workers sometimes have trouble helping themselves.

This is why it’s important to emphasize that self-care is not just an excuse for indulgence but a serious, measured approach to your career that will allow you to continue doing the work you do for a long time to come.

What Self-Care for Social Workers Looks Like

Self-care practices for social workers can encompass a variety of strategies and methods. These include:

In fact, those who are assiduous about looking after their mental health as a social worker would argue that all four of these strategies are necessary for any individual. After all, your career is just one part of your life. Finding these support systems will allow you to keep a healthy balance no matter how hard you are working.

“Compassion Fatigue”: Causes, Symptoms, and What You Can Do to Avoid It

While studying for your MSW, you may hear professors or other social work professionals use the expression “compassion fatigue.” This concept has gained traction as social workers, therapists, and other professionals whose jobs require them to extend deep empathy to vulnerable people report feelings of burnout after a long time working in the field. Though it may seem less than generous, compassion fatigue is a real issue, and it’s one that social workers should take seriously if they begin to feel it themselves.

In short, compassion fatigue is what it sounds like: the inability to provide emotional support to those who need it because you are too overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted to do so. It is not a cruel or selfish way to feel; in fact, those who feel it are often those whose generosity and kindness are so great that they have come at the cost of maintaining one’s own needs.

Compassion fatigue can be enough to lead people to leave the social work profession. It can also deeply harm one’s social work practice, getting in the way of their ability to truly support others. Indeed, it’s important to remember that compassion fatigue is not just a risk to social workers themselves but to the clients who rely on them.

This is one reason why self-care and maintaining a healthy work/life balance is so important for social workers. You’re much less likely to experience compassion fatigue if you are taking action to enrich your own personal life. By investing in self-care early into your social work career, you’ll be staving off compassion fatigue down the line, allowing you to become a more engaged and effective social worker.

Mental Health Challenges for Social Workers

In addition to the specific stresses of the social work profession, social workers can be subject to the same mental health issues as everyone else. These can include:

If left unaddressed, these issues can deeply impact one’s life, creating challenges that go beyond the professional realm. Social workers might be especially susceptible to ignoring these problems, as they are often focused on those whose needs feel greater or more dire than their own. However, it’s important to always take your own concerns seriously and deal with them thoroughly. Your own needs are important, and leaving them by the wayside may lead to burnout in the long run.

communing with nature

Mental Health Resources

The following resources are designed specifically to support social workers, providing tools that can empower and encourage social workers who might be at risk of burnout on the job.

Different resources work for different people; there’s no singular way to practice self-care.

As you’re starting your social work career, it’s a good idea to try out different self-care methods to see what works best for you. These are methods you’ll rely on over the course of your career, so it’s important to find the ones that are most practical and sustainable for you in the long-term.

Social Work Support Groups

One of the best ways to look after yourself as a social worker is by finding others in the profession who you can turn to during times of difficulty. Social work can be an incredibly taxing job, and it can be alienating to speak to those who don’t understand the high expectations and immense pressures that come with it. Finding other social workers who can relate to your experiences will mean you are connected to people who can relate deeply to what you’re talking about, and in turn offer the best strategies and resources to take care of yourself.

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

This organization provides a directory of support groups for emergency responders, healthcare workers, and social work providers all over the country to help them connect and find solidarity across their shared experiences.

Meetup Social Work Groups

The popular website Meetup is designed for people all over the country to start their own topic-based groups. This can be a great tool to find other social work professionals who are looking to build a network of like-minded peers who can support each other through the difficult aspects of their profession.

Advocacy and Educational Resources

Some of the most accessible social worker resources are written guides that you can access on your own. By giving yourself the framework to understand your mental health needs as a clinician or case manager, you’ll be providing yourself with tools that you can use to empower yourself, making yourself a stronger social worker in the long term.

These social work resources are organized by topic. Though these are mental health resources first and foremost, they can be considered social work career resources, as they are intended to support the longevity and sustainability of your career. 

Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

Compassion Fatigue Self-Tests

These tests from the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project allow social workers to check in about their stress levels and the impact empathy has on their life. Needless to say, it is always worth checking in with others if you are concerned about your stress level, from mental health experts like therapists to colleagues whose perspective on work may help you understand if you are experiencing an unhealthy relationship to your work.

EduMed: Understand & Overcome Your Compassion Fatigue: An Online Guide

This guide to compassion fatigue, written by a registered nurse, is an in-depth explainer that lays out the key terms and concepts social workers should understand to be sure they continue to feel motivated in their work.

Exploring Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, Compassion Satisfaction and Mindfulness in Direct Service Providers

This report by Christie Barboza explains the concept of “compassion fatigue” in social work and provides research-based information for social workers interested in learning about self-care.


Healing Justice, Transformative Justice, and Holistic Self-Care for Social Workers

This article, originally published in the journal Social Work, approaches the discussion of self-care for social workers through the framework of healing justice, a movement that sets out to holistically address mental health concerns, in particular for those from marginalized backgrounds.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,

By Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk

This book provides tools for caregivers to process and unpack the emotionally intense experiences they have on the job. The book includes interviews with a variety of caregiving professionals.

SocialWorkBlog: The Art of Self-Care for Social Workers

This blog post provides an extensive list of self-care strategies to help social workers offset the daily pressures and long-term emotional burdens of their job. It also includes its own list of additional resources for social workers.

Resources for Social Work Students

The following social work resources for students are designed specifically to help those at the beginning of their careers understand how to build self-care into their practices from the get-go. As mentioned above, having an awareness of your own mental health needs is a crucial part of social work, and it’s a great idea to incorporate this understanding into your career pursuits right at the beginning.

NASW: Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work

This guidebook, produced by the National Association of Social Workers, is a comprehensive guide to help social work students understand how burnout works and the measures they can take in their own lives to fight it.

The New Social Worker: Mindfulness: 10 Lessons in Self-Care for Social Workers

This guide provides a primer in mindfulness techniques, which are focused exercises rooted in meditation that have been demonstrated to be useful to individuals of all types. Author Deborah Lisansky Beck offers ten ideas for easy mindfulness routines to help social workers regroup and bolster their strength.

The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for the Helping Professions

By Michelle Trotter-Mathison and Thomas M. Skovholt

This book provides an excellent framework for incoming social workers to understand why self-care and mental health are so important to be mindful of when running one’s own social work practice.

Therapy and Counseling Services

If you’re in need of focused support from another – especially in a time of emotional crisis – the most direct aid you can find will be from a therapist or counselor. Since many social workers are therapists and counselors themselves, they know full well the value of these forms of support during times of need. Don’t shy away from seeking help if you need it, especially if you are suffering from acute anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

These offerings can include a variety of therapeutic modalities, as well as both individual and group therapy formats. If you have not ever been in therapy before, it may take some looking around to determine which therapeutic practice is the one best suited for you.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

This organization offers a directory of therapists and counselors for those who are looking to find one-on-one support for their mental health needs.

Therapy Aid Coalition

This organization provides free or low-cost short-term therapeutic services for healthcare professionals, including social workers. It also provides access to support groups for clinicians across disciplines.