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September 2016

“It can be a tough profession” – a mental health social worker reflects

Peb Johal, a mental health social worker from Coventry, shares her reflections on the rewards and challenges of her job. 

peb-mental-health-social-workerMy passion for working with communities led me to work for a charity for 13 years as an Advice Worker, Manager, and Local Authority Community Economic Regeneration Officer. Unfortunately, I felt I didn’t really have the power to make a direct difference to the people I worked with. But I noticed that my social work colleagues were able to have more impact – this ignited my passion for a career in social work.

During my training I enjoyed my time in mental health services, so I chose to work in the field.  It’s offered me great opportunities for training, development, and progression, and I have never looked back. I have the privilege of working with people in their homes, listening to them, and planning and supporting their recovery.  Being part of a multi-disciplinary team is really interesting, especially when working with complex cases, as it brings lively discussions about bio-psycho-social perspectives and different treatment options.

One case that stands out in my memory was a lady who experienced a serious episode of injury through self-harm, as a result of becoming acutely unwell with psychosis.  Her risk assessment labelled her as “aggressive” on the basis that she had attempted to “stab” a hospital nurse while being treated for her injury. In actual fact, because of her delusional state, she had perceived that she was in danger from strangers trying to harm her and forcibly remove her personal belongings. When I met her she was incredibly gentle and, although she was wary at first, we built a relationship. By my third or fourth visit, she was greeting me with a smile and I sensed she knew I believed in her.

I corrected her risk assessment, and I worked closely with her nurse and psychiatrist to regulate her medication. I also arranged psychological support, and helped her to visualise a positive future to the point where she was identifying next steps for herself.  She was eventually referred to a charity who helped her to prepare and apply for jobs.

I gave her husband psycho-educational support to understand her diagnosis, symptoms, relapse triggers, and medication options. I also helped him to access counselling, find after-school care for their children, and negotiate paid carer’s leave with his employer (he had used up all his annual leave caring for her and the children).

My favourite thing about my job is building relationships with people, and knowing that I’ve contributed to making a difference by using legal frameworks and resources, and applying my knowledge and skills to a diverse range of situations. It can be a tough profession with its own challenges, but I believe it does come with the power to make a positive difference.