‘A woman wants to die. As a social worker, I help her see that life matters’ | Society

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‘A woman wants to die. As a social worker, I help her see that life matters’ | Society
‘A woman wants to die. As a social worker, I help her see that life matters’ | Society


Monday

The hospital team’s consultant psychiatrist and I meet with Colin, who’s been referred by his GP. He hasn’t left home on his own for a month because he’s been hearing voices which make him believe he’s going to be kidnapped. The psychiatrist discusses medication with Colin, and I speak to him about the things in his life that affect his mental health.

This is my role as a social worker: through talking therapy, practical support, and by championing someone’s rights, I help people manage the social factors in their life that can help them get better, like relationships, housing and employment.

Tuesday

Today I’m supporting Joe, who’s been detained under the Mental Health Act. He’s appealing this decision at a tribunal, so I present a report I wrote about his relationships and living situation, as well as the treatment he’s received for his mental health difficulties, to the panel.

I outline a number of Joe’s strengths that demonstrate he does not need to be in hospital, and propose a plan that describes how mental health services could support him after he returns home.

The judge rules in favour of my recommendations and discharges Joe on the condition that he follows the plan. Joe is elated. He thanks me for my support, saying: “In all the time I’ve been under mental health services, nobody has spoken up for me like this before.”

Wednesday

In the morning I visit Nahid, who has been diagnosed with depression and Alzheimer’s disease. When I first met her, I was shocked to find her home severely neglected with no access to hot water or heating. I’m pleased to see that the suppliers have fixed both in response to my calls.

Today I’ve come to assess whether Nahid is able to manage her finances on her own – an important decision with wide implications – as I’ve discovered that her son is manipulating her into funding his gambling addiction.

Following a rigorous process, I find that she is capable of making decisions about her money, but I want to make sure she keeps it more secure. Together we calculate a daily budget and she resolves to stop allowing others to use her bank card.

At our weekly team meeting I present my assessment of Colin. Our team psychologist suggests a group therapy that supports people who hear voices, and the psychiatrist explains how he plans to review Colin’s medication going forward. I’ll also meet with Colin regularly.

Thursday

Today I’m on duty, which means I respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis. This is one of the most challenging parts of my job – the work is unpredictable and I’m often faced with intense situations requiring swift intervention.

A young woman enters the office. She tells me she wants to die, and has been researching ways to take her own life. Seeing someone feel so hopeless never fails to shake me, but I must stay calm.

I carefully find the words to help her see that her life matters, and together we explore the many purposes she has in life. We discuss psychological tools, such as mindfulness and other techniques to manage difficult emotions, and I refer her to the crisis team who will visit her at home to provide support.

Friday

My last appointment of the week is a rewarding one: my final meeting with Michael.

We’ve been working together since he was discharged from a mental health hospital. He felt that his long stay there had stripped him of his identity, so we’ve been working to rebuild it – including by strengthening his relationship with his daughter.

He wants to support others with similar experiences, so I’ve connected him with a group that helps improve mental health services by giving the perspective of people who’ve used them. He’s optimistic about his future and so am I. It’s moments like this that make it all worthwhile.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Some details have been changed to protect the identities of service users and family members involved

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com



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