Social Work in the Public Eye (September 2009)

Bernadette GaffneyManaging stress was the topic of a story in published in The Examiner in Washington, D.C. It quoted Bernadette Gaffney, who explained that people - females in particular - tend to overextend themselves and take on more responsibilities then they can handle.

"It seems to be very much a gender issue as females, particularly employed mothers, expect themselves to manage parenting, work, marriage/partnership, household tasks and relationships simultaneously." Gaffney was quoted as saying. "One cannot possibly give to important others in their lives if they, themselves, are depleted."

Gaffney and other experts encourage those who often overextend themselves to learn their limitations and stick to them. Whether it's in one's personal or professional life, taking on too much is a recipe for stress, the article stated.

Although advances in technology should help alleviate stress, research shows that it can have the opposite effect if not used correctly. The article said studies show that people have become so accustomed to being "on" that many have lost the ability to turn "off."

Experts suggest limiting time checking and responding to e-mails, voicemails or PDAs by blocking off a specific amount of time to check these devices and then turn them off.

Gaffney added, "Personal limit-setting in terms of how available you will make yourself is the first step in taming these electronic monsters. It's not the demands of work or others - it's often related to the need to please and surrender personal emotional balance to impulsivity and a false sense of being in control."

Gaffney reminds her patients who have a difficult time slowing down that their bodies will be the ultimate judge and that sooner or later it will retaliate in some way. She added: "There is no getting around the need to make emotional and physical self-care the priority."

Elizabeth Barrett The world of dating can be particularly challenging and stressful for people suffering with a mental illness. Social worker Elizabeth Barrett created a dating Web site, TrueAcceptance [no longer active], with a partner in Denver, Colo., that aims to help these people build positive relationships.

An Associated Press article about the Web site noted that Barrett believes that those who suffer from a mental illness tend to do better if they are in a relationship with other people. Couples in which both partners struggle with mental illness can share their experiences and support each other, the article said.

"You have somebody to throw your ideas off of," Barrett said. The story noted that Barrett has worked with the mentally ill people in a variety of settings, including the Bernalillo County jail in New Mexico and an Albuquerque psychiatric clinic. She now works in several schools in that state, from elementary through high school.

"I came in contact with quite a few adults with mental illness in jail," she said in the article. "A lot of people with significant mental illness tend to isolate."

Social withdrawal can lead to hospitalization or even suicide, she said. "I saw how the lack of social interactions made conditions worse."

The article noted that 300 users have posted profiles on the Web site since it started. Users can post as much, or as little, information as they like. Many list the nature of their illnesses.

Connie BessetteConnie Bessette was quoted in the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire in a story about ways to talk with children about economic hardships, especially those that involve families with young children. Bessette is a former school social worker who now runs a private practice. She said she focuses on how a family's economic troubles may be affecting the children.

When talking to parents about economic stress at home, Bessette will ask, "How are the children doing?

"What I typically hear is, 'They're fine, they're fine,'" she said in the article.

But with a decade of experience in schools, Bessette said she knows not to take that at face value.

"I kind of have a sense about what the children might be feeling and thinking," she said. What she often finds is that kids have feelings of being scared or worried, yet not knowing why.

That, she said, is why communication is so important.

Faced with economic stress, parents should acknowledge their emotions, maybe talk it out with each other or with friends, and then speak to the children about it, Bessette said in the story.

It's important for a parent to tell the kids: "'There's a change in our family, and things are different, and as a result, you're not going to go to summer camp.' Being able to hear what their thoughts are about, that is real important," she said.

If parents are able to communicate and have a good support system, the effects of economic stress on the family can be minimal, Bessette said.

"If they don't have a good support system, if they're isolated and tend to be inward, then I think the effects can be far more dramatic," she said.

Parents might withdraw, and anyone with a history of substance abuse might fall back on it or revert to other past coping strategies. Even turning to exercise, like bicycling, can have a downside, Bessette said.

"That's fabulous, but the downside is if they're doing hours and hours of it, they're obviously not dealing with the issue," she said.

After parents face a problem themselves, they can talk to the children, Bessette said. Kids will often volunteer to do their part to help, suggesting they can forgo or take a reduction in their allowances, for example, she said.

"I think the upside to this is that it's a golden opportunity for change," Bessette said.

The story also noted that Bessette was presenting a workshop on parenting in times of economic stress.