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The impact of mental health social work – Matthew and Thea’s story

Matthew’s story

Matthew is a 42 year old man from Stevenage. He has a diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder. Here he tells us about his work with Thea, a trainee social worker with Think Ahead.

Last year I separated from my wife for the second time. I was OK for a little while, but a few weeks after the separation I had a breakdown. There was a heated discussion at home and I ended up standing on a bridge, contemplating jumping. I had got to the point of believing that everyone would be better off without me. When I found that I couldn’t jump, I started tearing into my arms with a door key. I got a text message from a friend, which brought me back.

I went to the doctor’s on the Monday morning. I’d been shaking for most of the night and I was still shaking. The doctor listened to me and saw the cuts on my arms. He prescribed me some antidepressants and gave me an urgent referral into the mental health team.

I met Thea and her manager Kate a few weeks later. Initially they were just trying to get me to talk, and I wasn’t that keen on that at first. I started to meet Thea once a fortnight, and over time we built up trust and I felt I could open up a bit more. Eventually I really opened up and that helped me to work out what was going on – I realised I was carrying a lot of guilt and regret about how I had treated my family, and feeling that I had emotionally abused my wife.

I started to meet Thea once a fortnight, and over time we built up trust and I felt I could open up a bit more.

Over time, Thea has helped me develop lots of strategies and tools that help me. I’ve learnt some mindfulness techniques, and some types of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Thea would always give me homework, so I would go away and try things. Some would work and some wouldn’t, but that was fine – Thea was very flexible. We’ve also talked about values, and that has helped me to put my life back into perspective.  Thea encouraged me to be active and more social, she even helped me look at the way I treated sport as a punishment rather than for enjoyment.

Working with Thea has been a very positive experience. It’s made me think about how I live my life in a different way. I realised that I can’t fix the past, but I can work to be a better person and look forward to the future. And a lot of the physical symptoms I was experiencing have calmed down – for example I had a twitch in my right arm that I would get if I was feeling nervous or stressed, and that has stopped.

I’ve now been discharged from the service. I still have depression and anxiety, and I still struggle with very busy places, but I do feel that I’m on the mend and things are back on the right track. I know that I have the right tools now and I’m going in the right direction.

Thea’s story

Thea is a Think Ahead participant working in Hertfordshire. She joined Think Ahead’s first intake in July 2016.

Before Think Ahead I did a psychology degree and considered being a counsellor – but I realised that as a social worker I’d be able to do a mixture of therapeutic and practical work, and that I’d be able to really work alongside people with mental health problems and make a difference to them.

The job can be challenging, and very varied, but that’s what I like about it. In particular, I have been pleased that I have been able to do so much therapeutic work – especially getting to work with people over a long period of time.

The first time I met Matthew, it seemed that he was struggling to open up to us, and told us that he hadn’t really spoken to anyone about his mental health in a long time. So, I spent time getting to know him and began to find out what he felt he would benefit from through working with me. Over time we built up a good rapport and he was able to talk more about how he was feeling.

I used a strengths-based approach, supporting Matthew to identify his strengths and abilities to help build his confidence.

I can remember him saying that he felt lost. He wanted to change things, but he didn’t know how to. I used a strengths-based approach, focused on supporting Matthew to identify his strengths and abilities to help build his confidence. We developed a toolbox of coping strategies – things he’s tried and tested that he knows will help him on days or week when he’s really struggling.

Matthew was very motivated to change things, and has taken a lot of responsibility for his recovery. Working with him has been a total pleasure, and when I look back to when we started working together seven months ago, I can see a real difference. I have felt privileged to support Matthew as he has worked towards his goals and discharge from the service.