As Vocational Rehabilitation lead for our mental health Allied Health Professions (AHP) group I’m choosing to focus on employment.
What does work mean to you?
When asked this question it has to be said the first thought that comes to mind is the pay slip that lands on my desk every month. But beyond this is the thought that while I’m here it’s a good feeling to make a difference along the way. And out with work although I inevitably find the question of ‘so what do you do?’ is almost always followed by ‘what’s an occupational therapist?!’ I have to wonder what I would say if I didn’t have this job to talk about. What we do for a living seems like such an important part of our culture I wonder how my clients who don’t work must cope with this question.
As Occupational Therapists a person’s identity is core and so clients are asked about their work aspirations as part of initial contact. It is also recognised that Allied Health Professionals play a central role in helping people to return to work and to manage their own health and wellbeing.
Within the mental health service work has been done to promote ‘asking the work question’, and with this challenging a perhaps traditional perspective that if people have a mental health condition it is unlikely they will work.
I’m sure the likes of Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry or The Saturday’s Frankie Sanford would argue that it is indeed possible to make a living while experiencing mental health difficulties. During my research on celebrities with mental health difficulties I smiled at a quote by Stephen Fry stating ‘1 in 4 people, like me, have a mental health problem. Many more people have a problem with that.’
However OT and work is not exclusive to mental health. There is work across physical OT being done to promote employment, and encouragingly there is now joint working being completed to consider this agenda as a wider Dumfries and Galloway Allied Health Professions Group, based around delivery of the AHP National Delivery Plan.
A development from this has been the promotion of an Allied Health Professions Advisory Fitness for Work Report. This stems from a belief that people do not need to be 100% fit to engage with work, and it is a key goal of Allied Health Professionals to enable people to safely remain in or return to work wherever possible.
How did you feel when you woke up this morning about coming to work?
1= bad 10=good
I’m sure very few honest people would answer a 10, and so why should we wait for our clients to feel 10/10 before encouraging them back to work?
At times however our clients need more than just encouragement to return to work; often they have a number of barriers to cross. This is where AHP’s unique skills of assessing functional difficulties can be used to work alongside the client to come up with solutions that hopefully will enable a return to work. The Fitness for Work Report is now an opportunity to record this information in a formal manner, which in itself can be beneficial and empowering for the client. Over and above this it can also be shared with the GP and a client’s employer.
In addition to this report, Occupational Therapist’s can use a range of tools to help clients stay in work, return to work or seek new employment. This work is not always done alone however and often we work with a number of partnership agencies both mainstream and mental-health specific to enable a client to meet their vocational goals.
It is also worth mentioning that not all of our client’s want to, or indeed are able to work. I consider myself in a fortunate position within our service that we provide OT vocational input on the grounds that we see the right work as being beneficial to a person’s health and well-being. A lot of our clients currently feel under pressure due to benefit reforms and mandates to attend work-related services. We continue to work with clients that want to move forward because this is a goal related to their recovery.
For those client’s who state work is not a priority, we continue to offer interventions for those who identify goals in relation to engaging in meaningful occupations involving their self-care, productivity and leisure.
In summary I would hope to point out a few key points:
- Good work is good for your health
- OT’s play a central role in helping people to return to work and to manage their own health and wellbeing
- OT’s also play a key role in helping people to move forward with non-employment focused occupational goals
- Happy OT Week!!!!
Helping People to Live Life Their Way
Vicky Widdowson is a Specialist Occupational Therapist in Mental Health in NHSDumfries and Galloway