Written by: Peter Hill – Mental Health Specialist – The Pro Forum Community of Practice

As a case worker for a large non-government community organisation in Canberra, I have worked in a homeless program that deals with clients in housing commission units with a range of mental health and substance-abuse issues.  The program supported people living with mental health conditions and provided them with up to 18 months of accommodation with case workers working with them on their issues to find more permanent housing.  At each site, there are often two case workers dealing with the client base where verbal abuse was common and sometimes physical abuse occurred if the client was under the influence of a substance.

Our work was generally during business hours, and on Monday, you would always wonder what you would face after the weekend.  We had brunch on Mondays with the whole community invited to meet with us, and this is where we hear about the week prior and the episodes on site that would generally result in a police presence or two.  There were housing tenants being hunted down for selling crushed Panadol as crystal meth, and guys walking around with baseball bats was not uncommon, and when we did not see a client for a couple of days, we would carry out health checks to ensure they are doing okay.

We used humour as a vital part of the engagement process as we needed to know our clients to be able to spot when they are becoming unwell and to provide early intervention by contacting their mental health clinics.  While we had to know the client’s diagnosis to be wary of the signs that they are becoming unwell, it did not have any bearings on how we worked with them on a daily basis.  A psychiatrist once asked a colleague of mine how we deal with difficult clients, day-in and day-out, and her response was “we work with them at where they are at on the day as we are there to support them in the best way we can”.  She also added that we worked with them as a person, and not on their condition.  People sometimes forget that the mental health philosophy is built around recovery, and there are so many ways to do that to suit the person’s needs and situation.  It is about the journey, rather than the destination as there are times that you will need to move backwards through the journey before you can move forward.


The information provided herein is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or mental health concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in this content.
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