Social worker Fred Andersen is a man who has found his calling. The former Makkovik resident did an undergraduate degree in Political Science after high school and went to work in the civil service for the provincial government.
Andersen listened to the ideas of his fellow Labradorians and attempted to relay their concerns to the government. At every turn he was told ‘there’s no policy for that’ and was refused the chance to write it. Disillusioned, he returned to school, this time to do a Masters in Anthropology.
As fate would have it, money ran dry and Andersen went to work in a residential setting.
‘I was working with people who were challenged- people who were survivors of child sexual abuse and all manner of trauma, and realized, that’s my calling, that’s who I am,’ Andersen said. ‘And so, I continued working in the field and realized I needed a social work background for this. So I did the Bachelor of Social Work and entered deeper into the world of mental health addictions, and now I’m doing my Masters of Social Work.’
Since entering the field 19 years ago, Andersen has chosen to work at home in Labrador and in communities in Newfoundland.
‘We have real issues with substance abuse,’ Andersen said of Nunatsiavut communities. ‘Alcohol and drugs go hand in hand with violence, particularly violence against women, and we’re not talking about this. We keep trying to cover it up. To say it happens, but it’s not that bad. No violence is acceptable in my opinion. When children are being abused then we have a real issue on our hands and that’s what’s happening in our communities.’
Andersen works as the mental health worker for the Inuit Health Survey and conducts interviews. He is available to counsel participants who struggle with the Community and Personal Wellness questionnaire component of the study. Questions include sensitive issues relating to sexual and physical abuse, substance use and suicide, which often trigger negative memories.
While the job is his calling, it hasn’t always been easy for him.
‘I despaired when I first started working in this field because I thought that I could fix things and worked harder and harder to fix them. There were small triumphs, but not enough was happening. I nearly fried to a crisp. But then I didn’t. I got out of the pan and got focused. Now I’m able to keep the work at a healthy distance and take care of myself. In social work, that’s a huge issue,’ Andersen said.
Traveling through communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut this summer, Andersen saw first hand that there aren’t nearly enough resources available to deal with mental health issues.
‘Every community needs a team, a team that can provide time out for some while others are on the ground working, because it’s very demanding, very stressful and necessary,’ he said. More Inuit need to be trained as mental health workers and health care needs to be delivered in communities, rather than sending people south, he said.
It’s the rewards of his calling that keep Andersen going. ‘There is no better thing for me then to see someone healing in front of me, witnessing healing happening. So many people are damaged through no fault of their own, but with appropriate intervention they can make progress and move to healthier living and less stress,’ he said.
How Fred stays healthy: ‘Thirty years ago I cut sugar and salt out of my diet and I don’t miss it. I do lots of walking.’