Psychology Career Journeys: Vanessa Mason

Vanessa Mason is an Associate Mental Health Worker for the Enfield Early Intervention Service. Having been inspired to pursue a career in Psychology after completing her A Level in Psychology, Vanessa decided to continue her academic studies and underwent a full-time undergraduate degree in Psychology, eventually progressing onto the full-time masters course ‘Early Intervention in Psychosis’ at King’s College London. Here at Visionary Minds, Vanessa tells us about her journey into psychology, her insights, the challenges and what makes it all worthwhile.

What does the Enfield Early Intervention Service do?
The Enfield Early Intervention Service provides specialist care and support to young people who are experiencing their first symptoms of psychosis. We treat people who are between the ages of 18 and 35 and we help with the administration of anti-psychotic medicines, cognitive behaviour therapy for psychosis and emotional problems, including depression and anxiety, family interventions and relapse prevention.

What does the Associate Mental Health Worker role involve?
As an Associate Mental Health Worker, I am very patient centred. I actively contribute towards the delivery of therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in addition to other mental health interventions which is all done under the expert supervision of a Clinical Psychologist. Treatments are subjective as different people are at different stages of their recovery. Due to this, I often work one-to-one with patients as well as managing a caseload so my patients vary in their recovery stages and types of psychosis. Importantly, the treatments and care provided by the service and with any role in the NHS, it is vital to document case notes and so I record any details of patient care needs which include the monitoring of patients progress, feedback, discussions, reports and in-care reviews. In addition to my duties assessing and supporting the mental health of the patients, I am also tasked with monitoring the physical health of each individual and assisting in health care assessments.

Moreover, my role encompasses other various responsibilities which differ day to day, but all of which are focused on supporting and promoting recovery of each individual. I also facilitate and develop support groups for patients. I believe these groups are very beneficial to the individuals that are being treated by the Enfield Early Intervention Service as it gives them the opportunity to learn new skills, face and overcome challenges such as managing stress, anxiety and low mood. What I personally enjoy about facilitating these support groups is how service users are able to contribute and develop their own coping mechanisms and as a result they are able to learn from each other and in some instances provide encouragement as the groups tend to be composed of services users at different stages of recovery.

What do you enjoy about your role?
Although my role is demanding, it is also very rewarding. I am able to work with each service user and help them to get back on their feet and start afresh. The responsibilities of an Associate Mental Health Worker differ greatly depending on the service, their policies, treatments offered and staffing requirements. For instance, since I work with an Early Intervention Service team part of my role as an Associate Mental Health Worker is to care coordinate (CC). This means that I am responsible for monitoring and evaluating the care delivered and I really enjoy this aspect of my role as I am able to work closely with service users to help facilitate their recovery. As a Care Coordinator, what I enjoy most is being able to build a good rapport with the patients to enable a collaborative relationship. I believe that this is a key predictor to assess whether engaging with our service would be beneficial.

I also appreciate that the Early Intervention Service team is a multi-disciplinary team. Belonging to such a team means that we all learn from each other as we all have valuable skills that would benefit the care we offer to our service users. I am lucky enough to be in a team that are very supportive of one another and encourage professional development.

What are some of the challenges you face?
Being an Associate Mental Health Worker can be very challenging. Patients have a tendency to rapidly decline in health within a matter of days which can be very emotionally demanding. As I put everything I can into the quality of care that I provide it is easy to blame yourself if or when your service user relapses.

Being so invested in the patient’s recovery, it is devastating when a patient dies. Unfortunately, I experienced one such incident when a patient actions lead to his very tragic death. This incident was unrelated to his physical health and it is not yet possible to tell if it was linked to his mental health or just a random occurrence. It still under investigation currently. This was a very difficult period in my career but an important learning curve as I realised that ultimately I am only a small contributor to the recovery of the service user and that each individual has their own journey to recovery but sadly not all patients are able to successfully complete treatment and move on in their lives for their own reasons. This reality is part and parcel of working in mental health.

What cultural issues/stigmas do you find hinder the recovery of patients using Early Intervention Service?
I find that in my experience, people who suffer from a mental illness, even in the most mild of cases, do not seek out help for their symptoms due to the stigma attached to it. This hinders successful treatment and nearly 9 out of 10 people with mental health issues report that being diagnosed with any form of illness associated with mental health, such as depression or other mood related disorders, is frowned upon, which ends up having a profound negative effect on their lives. I find that society in general still has strong stereotypical views about mental illness and how it affects people. Many believe that anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder are simply violent and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.

I also find that commonly, some service users battle with the acceptance that they actually have mental health problems, especially psychosis. I link this with them experiencing feelings of shame or embarrassment. These individuals usually do not have insight into their illness and so may engage in behaviours that might not have been the norm for them and therefore, by resisting acceptance that they are unwell subsequently prevents them from seeking out and engaging with the necessary treatments and therapies. I often hear service users say “why am I taking medication if I am not unwell?”

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