Published on March 10th, 2017 | from CAMH
Social Workers of CAMH
A Humans of New York-inspired piece about some of CAMH’s biggest difference makers
By Mike Hajmasy
Social workers are integral members of all clinical interdisciplinary teams at CAMH. They work with individuals and families to bridge the gap between treatment and community, and they advocate tirelessly on behalf of those living with mental illness or addictions issues.
In honour of Social Work Week in Ontario, meet eight CAMH social workers from across the organization in these Humans of New York-inspired posts. Read first-hand how they’re making a difference, and what motivates them to do the work that they do.
To the more than 200 social workers at CAMH, and 17,000 across the province: thank you!
Each of these posts is featured individually on CAMH’s official Instagram account, which you can follow @CAMHnews.
Andrew, Social Worker, ACT Team, Downtown West [Archway] Outpatient Clinic
“In the outpatient setting, I’m working with clients to help them transition back into the community. I recently worked with someone to get him moved into a new apartment. We met while he was still an inpatient, and you know, it was so rewarding to see how proud he was moving into his own place. After 20 years as an inpatient, there he is offering me a glass of water, worrying if I have a place to sit.
At the foundation of social work is a belief in and value of all people, regardless of what their life experience has been. At the end of the day, these are people. They aren’t their diagnosis or charge; they’re a person who we advocate on behalf of. And I think that’s what’s really special about social work.”
Jane, Social Worker, Concurrent Youth Inpatient Unit
“Growing up I went through some tough times; I wasn’t all that different from some of the youth that I work with today. I got into some trouble and my mom encouraged me to see someone for help, and that really changed things, which is part of the reason why I chose to be a social worker.
A lot of people ask me: ‘how do you not bring the job home with you?’ And the truth is, it’s impossible not to. We’re all human and sometimes this type of work does stay with you. But I have no regrets. Social work has made me a better person. I’m kinder. I have more patience. And it’s continually rewarding to see some of the youth I’ve worked with back out in the community and doing well.”
Walter, Social Worker, Aboriginal Services
“I’m what’s called an ‘Indigenous-centered social worker.’ I have western clinical training, but I incorporate different aspects of Aboriginal culture and spirituality into my work with clients. In group sessions we’ll sing and drum, do a smudge and pass an eagle’s feather as we share. Some clients use CAMH’s sweat lodge that we have on site. We embrace the client’s Aboriginal culture, help them reestablish their sense of identity and lay the foundation for building up spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health.
This work is where my heart is. To see patients that I’ve worked with rediscovering their sense of identity, coming to me and saying, ‘I can be well, I can be healthy, I can get my own housing, I can keep coming to groups, I can go back to school, I can get a job, I can be in a healthy relationship…’ When I see that kind of change, that’s when I know I’ve done by job. And for me that’s amazing.”
Linda, Social Worker, Drug Treatment Court Program
“A graduate of our program presented me with this painting he did, which depicts he and his mother walking along the shore in South Sudan. And I keep it in my office as a reminder of his success and the transformation that he made with DTC [Drug Treatment Court Program]. He’s busy back at school studying architectural design at George Brown College, so it’s nice to be able to keep a piece of him close to me.
In many ways we’re like a family here. It means the world to help my clients rebuild their lives. I work with people who have non-violent criminal charges in combination with substance abuse or mental illness. And as an alternative to incarceration, I case manage my clients for a minimum of one year, advocating on their behalf with the courts. Even after some of our clients graduate from the program, they continue to keep in touch with other clients and our staff.”
David, Social Worker, Social Determinants of Health Service
“My specialty as a social worker is barriers to employment and education. My colleagues and I form partnerships within the community to help address clients’ concerns regarding income, housing, employment and education. We sit in with different clinical teams to find out what particular stressors their clients are facing, and connect them with the resources we have available. We also host different initiatives right here at CAMH such as the Employment and Education Fair with Youth Employment Services to connect CAMH clients with local employers.
Speaking with people in the community about mental illness; breaking down some of the myths and stigmas associated with it is another important part of what I do. It’s about building capacity and creating understanding in the community so that our clients – when they’re ready – can go out there and pursue what they want to do.”
Tania, Social Worker, Nicotine Dependence Clinic
“I have always wanted to help other people. I had some struggles of my own growing up and learned early on how important help from others can be.
It’s rewarding to see some of the people I work with reach their goal of quitting or reducing how much they smoke. And to be able to teach other health care practitioners in Canada about tobacco cessation is another great part about my job. Colleagues and I speak with general practitioners, occupational therapists, other social workers, dentists, and so on about how to start the ‘quitting conversation’ with patients, and next steps for making that happen. Tobacco addiction isn’t always given priority status, but in combination with other mental or physical health problems, quitting can be an important milestone in getting better.”
Dave, Social Worker, Emergency Department
‘The nursing station is a pretty busy place, but I like the high energy. It keeps me on my toes.
Before this I was a neuroscience researcher and a camp director, and I wanted to combine my interest in clinical mental health support with my passion for supportive relationships and how they can have an impact on people. In the emergency department, I’m working with individuals in distress. So I always think to myself, if I can reduce that distress as much as possible by making people feel safe and comfortable, and leverage that short-term motivation to activate supports that could help them in the long-run, then I’m shifting the trajectory of their wellbeing by a tiny bit. And that tiny bit can make a big difference in the end.”
Kristy, Social Worker, Structured Observation & Treatment Unit/Women’s Secure Forensic Unit
“Part of what I love most about social work is that it encourages us to go beyond the individual and consider the external factors around them that have shaped and continue to shape their life experience. In my current role on a forensic unit, I work with some of the most marginalized populations – men and women with a diagnosis of a major mental illness, often times an addiction, almost always a history of trauma and contact with the criminal justice system – and so it’s especially important to consider the reasons why a person has come to us.
In every role I’ve had as a social worker, I’ve seen the amazing humour, resilience and hope people carry. And I’ve learned that sometimes when there are no easy answers or fixes, there is enormous value in acceptance, advocacy and kindness.”