Care Coordinator, Community Mental Health Team.
I’ve worked in mental health for nearly 30 years, which means I’ve seen lots of changes. Over the years, I’ve had encounters with patients that have not only changed how I work, but who I am as a person. Their stories and challenges have touched, humbled and inspired me. People live with illness, trauma, addictions and incredible losses, and yet, they carry on somehow with such resilience. It’s amazing at times.
It truly is a privilege to be invited into their homes and their lives and to be entrusted with their care.
The population I serve is very different. That means that success has to be measured differently. It can be so much harder for them to access the services they need. While they seem physically able to get out, their mental health issues keep them isolated. Their problems are not easily solved. Not only does their illness affect their ability to cope, they often live with poverty, lack safe and affordable housing, and experience lots of social isolation and stigma.
We do the best we can to address a small part of the larger problems by helping them to be consistent with their medication, linking them with longer-term supports and giving them some strategies to cope.
Success can mean seeing them return to work or school or reconnecting with family and friends. Success can also be about maintaining daily routines independently and avoiding hospitalization. When they can’t maintain their gains, it’s not a failure. It’s just the nature of the illness. So we start again, maybe with a different approach or resource.
We have to celebrate the small successes. For someone who hasn’t left the house in years, seeing them learn how to navigate the bus is a huge achievement. These are often chronic illnesses that aren’t going to get better, so we try to look for ways to achieve the best quality of life.
My patients keep me motivated and passionate. They are so resilient. Sometimes I’ll read a case history and my initial reaction is to think there’s nothing we can do to help, too much damage has been done. Then I meet them, and I’m amazed by how resilient they are and how many strengths they have.
I remember one patient who had schizophrenia. She lived in a trailer with her elderly spouse. Their age was making life harder. When I met them, she had multiple mobility issues, and she was experiencing incontinence and skin breakdown as a result. Her husband was exhausted, but he didn’t want to give up his caregiving role
They were struggling on so many levels, but the most important thing for them was to stay together. So they only acceptable minimal help with mental health nursing and some PSW support. That extra bit of care gave them time to reconnect with an estranged daughter and plan for long-term care. We even found them a donated air conditioner to make the trailer more bearable. Their situation once again reminded me that help must be defined by the person receiving it, not the person giving it. This is a lesson my patients teach me again and again.
What we do here is very important and impacts many lives. It’s what keeps me working in health care. I get great joy when I can help one person at a time.