Sometimes, some days feel filled with sadness. I had one of those days this week. I don’t like to use the word ‘hardened’ but to put it this way, in over 10 years of frontline social work practice in some of the most deprived areas of the country and in the inner city, I’ve seen a fair bit of what society has to throw in terms of crumbs to those who are some of the most vulnerable members of it.
I look at the high rises that skirt around the cities and I see hundreds of lives being lived, families existing and stories being told. Some with hope and pride. Some with desperation and despair. All different, all a part of this community and society we live in. Poverty is real. Despair is real. The two don’t have to go hand in hand though.
I have a strong stomach and don’t bat an eyelid at all sorts of things when I walk into a house. I’ve probably seen worse.
In some ways, human misery is a part of my trade. Not always, of course, because there are the wonderfully reassuring smatterings of hope but difficult social circumstances and social deprivation run a theme through my career.
Although I often emphasis that mental ill-health is certainly no respecter of social class or financial assets, it is sometimes the level of deprivation and the difficulty and shame of poverty that I see that reminds me of the way that this political class intentionally ignores and isolates some members of the community.
Perhaps the most difficult part of my job is wrapped up in the AMHP (Approved Mental Health Practitioner) role. It is a mirror into my ethical compass and while I enjoy the aspects that were involved in training and the support and development and even community feeling I have with other AMHPs, the process of making a decision about someone’s forced detention in hospital or a forced medication regime is never one that can be taken lightly and I don’t think it is one that should ever be ‘enjoyed’. It is power, writ large. It is control.
Sometimes people thank you retrospectively for ‘making the right decision for me at the time’ but more likely that isn’t going to happen.
This week, I carried out a Mental Health Act Assessment in a hospital. That is very far from unusual. When I read the background and the circumstances, when I conducted the assessment and made the application for detention, which I did, I was overcome with a feeling of sadness for the action that I had taken and for the life that it predominantly affected.
For obvious reasons I won’t go into details – anyway, even if I did they would possibly sound fanciful and unrealistic. To people who think that I have a ‘difficult’ job, I would say I have had a walk-on part among some fine and very strong people who have had to contend with sickness, pain and family circumstances that have rolled all the dice against them in the lottery of life.
And when I sign the papers and write up the report, I don’t forget. I think, I reflect and I try to learn. What could we have done to prevent this situation from having occurred? Sometimes the answer is nothing but sometimes there might have been a different path, a different action or different guidance that might have led to a different outcome.
Sometimes, some days, I just feel overcome with sadness. Sadness at the injustices that are meted out by life, fate and circumstance. Sadness at the way that this society perpetuates and builds on those injustices of circumstance. Sadness at my role my own complacency in accepting that we have created such an unequal and unfair society.
In a community where people who live on state benefits are treated with an intention to humiliate and scorn and where the government not only condones and supports this, it tries to create further barriers between the ‘haves’ (with ‘have’ meaning working tax-payer) and the ‘have-nots’ (meaning those who depend on the state for income) it sickens me as I know that the rhetoric of ‘choice’ and ‘community capacity building’ are empty words which mean nothing without the world of privilege. By privilege I don’t mean money, necessarily, but include the privilege of having family or friends around, the privilege of being well enough to build up networks of support, the privilege of being a part of a community. There is so much more to privilege that cash assets or income.
Sometimes I want to shout against the system that I am a part of. The social care system in this country is not ‘fair’ – it reeks desperately of unfairness and the pushing of ‘choice’ in very narrow terms onto a wide range of people who in reality have no choice whatsoever further marginalises and discriminates against poverty, incapacity and isolation.
But I continue in my job. I go into work and ‘buy into’ the system. In my own defence, I fight as hard as I can from the inside and I don’t forget the names, the faces and the stories of those whose lives touch mine.
I remember, I note and I learn and sometimes, that just fills me with sadness – but when I stop feeling that sadness, I stop learning, growing and trying to create a better world. One person at a time. In spite of the system I work in and with rather than because of it.