We often talk in terms of us and them. Both users of services and providers of services. Quite often though, we are the same people. I work in a psychiatric hospital – that’s where my office is. Work defines me to a large extent. But I, or people close to me, use the services that I provide. Yesterday, we took a referral for the mother of a colleague who works in a different office but whom I have worked alongside for years. Last year, I put in a care package for the father of the manager of a care agency that we are contracted to use.
My father, too, lives in sheltered housing (in central London, still but in a different borough) which is provided by the council and has a care package from his local authority. I am a patient myself when I haul myself to my doctor’s surgery and am nervous enough to have something about white coat effect scribbled across my own notes when attempts are made at blood pressure readings and I stress constantly about wasting my own doctor’s time when I do (rarely) haul myself around the GP.
A very good friend of mine, a child protection social worker, suffered from severe post-natal depression to an extent that she was off work for a considerable amount of time and unable to go back to the same position. She still suffers.
The people I work with and around use the services we provide. When I was doing my ASW course, one of the social workers had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital herself for an extended period and another of the students described to us all in minute detail, the effect that sectioning had had on his mother and his family dynamics since that time.
We often talk in terms of us and them – if it isn’t explicit then it is implicit. Who are we trying to fool? Perhaps it is easier to work within systems when there is a divide in place. When we empathise but not too much. Not so much that we relate to our own experiences.
We don’t talk about our own experiences of being a patient or a user of the services that we (or our colleagues in different boroughs) provide because it detracts but it does put things into perspective a little.
I don’t usually attend my father’s care reviews – I leave that to my sisters to manage (or actually most of the time I know he’s well able to advocate for himself and probably does a better job of it than I would – of course, if I felt he needed it or had cause to complain, I’d nose around but actually he receives an incredible service).
Perhaps that’s one of the differences between working in adult and children’s services. It is a bit less ‘us and them’. We use the services. Our parents use the services. We want them to be better. We want things to run smoothly.
We want the services to be there and to be robust for the times when we reach an age that we need support.
A few weeks ago, I was called out in an emergency to the local A&E to see a woman who had been admitted following an assault by her partner. She had early-onset Alzheimer’s and although she did not need to be admitted, she could not return home. Shelters that exist in the area where I work are very limited in terms of particular needs and so we needed to think of solutions. She had been a social worker until a few years previous. Now, she was struggling to remember her address.
Of course there are more ties that bind us to humanity than a profession but sometimes it does cause us to pause for thought.
‘PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that….
Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.