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“It’s such a privilege when people open up to you” – participants share their experiences with new Think Ahead recruits

The launch event for Think Ahead’s third intake took place on Saturday (19 May). New recruits, who will begin the programme in July this year, came together for the first time to learn more about the role of a mental health social worker, and to start preparing for the programme.

The day featured a number of sessions, including a panel Q&A with three participants who are currently on the programme. Matt, Amber and Miriam (pictured above) talked about why they had wanted to become mental health social workers, and the challenges and rewards of the job.

“Remember that you’re going to be able to make a difference.”

Miriam – who is in her second year of the programme (and is now working as a qualified social worker) – said: “Be honest and transparent with the people you’re working with. It’s ok if you don’t know everything or if you make a mistake. You’re still learning, and you’ll keep on learning.”

She talked about some of the benefits of the role: “It’s such a privilege when people open up to you. Be appreciative when people let you in and trust you.”

Matt, who is in the first year of the programme, said: “This job is going to have an emotional impact on you. Take the time to look after yourself.” While Amber, also in the first year, said: “Take each day as it comes. You’ll have hard days – but remember that you’re going to be able to make a difference.”

“You are fortunate to be able to work in a career where you walk alongside service users.”

The day also included a presentation on the academic elements of the programme, a drama performance from Acting Out Productions, and a key note speech from Faye Wilson – a social worker with over 40 years’ experience, who won an Outstanding Contribution to Social Work award in 2014.

Faye told the audience: “You are fortunate to be able to work in a career where you walk alongside service users. You change them, and they change you.”

“I am still energised by it all.”

Towards the end of the day there was another panel Q&A session with Nicola Shawyer, an experienced social worker and manager of four Think Ahead participants, and Aly Fryer, a service user who has been involved with Think Ahead since the charity’s setup.

Nicola said: “I am proud of being a social worker. [After 10 years working] I am still energised by it all.”

Aly told the audience that, for her, integrity and transparency are the most important qualities in a social worker.

Nicola and Aly were each were asked to give one piece of advice to the new recruits. Nicola’s was to be organised, while Aly advised: “Make use of the on-hand support from your peers.”

The day was opened by Think Ahead’s Co-Chief Executive Natalie Acton, and closed by Co-Chief Executive Ella Joseph – both reminded the audience that we are all united by the charity’s vision: to see a world where everyone with mental health problems can flourish.