Written By Gregory Fischbach

December 01, 2023
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Derek Cegelka at the 2023 APHA Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta, Georgia

Derek Cegelka at the 2023 APHA Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta, Georgia.

HPU Assistant Professor Derek Cegelka, Ph.D., MPH, CHES, presented at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting and Expo held on November 12-15, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. 

APHA's Expo stands out as the pinnacle event in public health each year, providing dynamic and cutting-edge opportunities for health professionals to achieve their personal and career objectives. Participants are encouraged to interact with experts in public health, foster collaboration with fellow advocates, and enhance their professional growth.

The Expo centered on creating the healthiest nation and overcoming social and ethical challenges in the process. In his presentation, Cegelka noted that a nation must build public health capacity and address the social and ethical challenges that threaten our nation’s health. With a stronger public health infrastructure, we can expand essential prevention and health promotion efforts at the community, state and federal levels to tackle threats from communicable diseases like COVID-19 and mpox, substance misuse, climate change and health disparities.

Cegelka presented his research on social workers and their burnout, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress at the Expo. It was one of the largest meetings for public health professionals, with typical attendance up to 12,000 people each year.

His study reveals that social workers, particularly those in mental health and medical fields, face significant challenges in both their professional and personal lives. Staff shortages, rapid turnover, compassion fatigue, and inadequate recruitment contribute to their struggles. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates these difficulties, leading to therapeutic encounters that often involve discussions of death, loss, and diminished security.

Social work clinicians working with traumatized families and individuals experience adverse effects, potentially requiring mental health treatment themselves. Findings from focus groups with 42 licensed social workers highlight common themes such as the importance of support, empathy, training, burnout, vicarious trauma/secondary traumatic stress, and self-care/respect. The results indicate elevated rates of depression and anxiety, emphasizing the increasing demand for trauma-informed social workers in the wake of societal shifts, post-pandemic adjustments, and political unrest.

The study suggests the importance of combating secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma in therapeutic relationships, emphasizing the role of supportive peer networks and strong family systems as protective factors for positive mental health outcomes. The authors recommend exploratory research to develop effective interventions for enhancing the long-term mental health of social work clinicians.

Dedicated to advancing the well-being of all individuals and communities, APHA holds the position as the nation's foremost public health organization. By empowering public health professionals, APHA amplifies their impact and ensures a science-based perspective in policy discussions that are often swayed by emotion, ideology, or financial interests. At the forefront of initiatives to promote prevention, diminish health disparities, and champion wellness, APHA continues to lead in shaping a healthier future.

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