According to many Canadian surveys and studies, workplace stress is a serious health and economic burden, with estimated costs between $3.2 billion and $11.7 billion per year (Hassard et al., 2014; Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2010). Employees who experience high workplace demands, low control, high effort, and low reward are more likely to suffer adverse consequences of a psychologically unsafe workplace (Great West Life Centre for Mental Health, 2016). The problem is particularly acute in the health, nonprofit, and social services sectors, which have high job demands and few supports. These sectors also have the highest rate of absenteeism across all employment sectors in Canada. Reasons for absenteeism include high stress levels, psychological disorders, anxiety, and burnout (Stewart, 2013).
Non-profit agencies in the homelessness sector are dealing with a unique population of marginalized individuals who often have serious mental health and addiction concerns. Given this challenging work, ensuring the physical and mental health of service providers in these agencies is critical to the welfare of clients. As with other service providers, those who work with youth who are homeless often experience stress and direct and vicarious trauma, which can put not only themselves but their already traumatized clients at risk. Moreover, research shows strong relationships between chronic stress and disease, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, stroke, and ulcers (Bickford, 2005).
Stress and trauma are often side effects of front-line youth work. While these issues cannot be totally eliminated, strategies and practices are emerging to deal with them. Interventions that have been shown to reduce stress, burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are psychoeducational and skill-based, and involve training in mindfulness, cognitivebehavioural therapy, and psychological first aid. Mental fitness, self-care practices, and robust social supports serve as protective factors.
This chapter presents the perspectives of front-line workers and discusses strategies to promote their mental and emotional fitness. It also describes implementation considerations and key messages for front-line workers.