Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Very, Very, Hard

As you can see from the title of this post, I am going to talk about a few things, good and not so good.

I think I will talk about these items in reverse order to my title so I finish on an up-note. (Much better for my long term sanity I am sure).

In my work I deal with many people facing very many problems. Some significant, some not so bad, and some potentially life threatening. I am always amazed by the capacity many people have to cope with the most impossible situations, but the reality is that some people reach a point where they no longer have the strength to go on. At this point some contemplate death, and some take the ultimate step and commit suicide.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with a young man who was very distressed by his circumstances; in fact he was so distressed he was talking about suicide. In my current role, and previously when working for charities that specialised in supporting people with mental illnesses, I have unfortunately faced similar circumstances all too often.

Now I need to stress here that if anyone reading this needs more information about suicide prevention a good start is doing a Google on “suicide prevention”. If you are really concerned about someone seek medical help for them, if you feel it is urgent dial your emergency services number (000 in Oz, 911 in The US and Canada, or 999 in the UK, other countries look here). All threats or talk of suicide MUST be taken seriously.

Having said the above, as a professional it is not so simple. Don’t get me wrong Australia has a quite good health system and unlike in the US it is largely free, especially for the poor. But there are never enough services to go around and hence charities like the one I work for often end up carrying a load they are poorly resourced for. So in a situation like the one I was faced with yesterday you have to make decisions on the run about how best to proceed.

In theory the best approach in Victoria is to phone a CAT Team (Crisis assessment and treatment teams). However in my experience CAT teams can take a long time to respond and often seem to want to push responsibility back onto the person who has called due to their own limited resources. Better results are usually achieved by calling an ambulance, but often you hear of people being turned away from ERs because they are either not taken seriously or they minimise their issues once they get there. Unfortunately, there is such a huge stigma to being seen as crazy that many people try to back out of receiving help at the last minute. Overstretched services sometimes fail to support people when this happens, occasionally with tragic results. The best results seem to happen if someone can go with people to support them while they are waiting to be assessed and even repeat what was disclosed.

Back to the young man in question, I was with him for a couple of hours as I and a volunteer phoned around trying to get him the support he needed. In the end we were able to get him linked up with the supports he needed at the time. Then as a manager my responsibility shifts to debriefing staff (in this case volunteer staff) and trying to assess the level of impact such stressful events have had on them. A key to avoiding burnout is to make sure staff get adequate support and just as importantly understand support is available if they need it.

Sometimes you can’t help, no matter how hard you try, sometimes there are tragedies. Usually though you manage to help someone along the road to the help they need. Oddly, this type of event is not only incredibly stressful, but on other levels very rewarding. I have found incredible satisfaction in simply knowing I have done my best to help another human being.
So that is the very, very hard bit dealt with.

My post has already gone on far too long, so I’ll just hint at the Bad and the good and leave them for next time.

The Bad – in my previous post I mentioned an editor reading my manuscript; she has jetted back to England before I could catch up with her.

The Good – she has forwarded some brilliant comments that I couldn’t be happier with.

Until next time.

Just for fun a photo of Green Cape Lighthouse

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