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Mental health and injury

Many people are surprised when I tell them I’m a social worker at Slater and Gordon Lawyers. “What’s a social worker doing at a law firm?” is one of the common questions I get asked. But once I explain my role to people, the next question is usually “why don’t all firms offer social work services?"

I was a hospital social worker for 21 years before starting at Slater and Gordon in 2009, my whole career, therefore, has been focused on assisting people who are injured or ill. In the acute and rehabilitation hospitals where I used to work, I assisted seriously injured patients on a wide range of services, from helping with their financial problems, lodging a claim for TAC, WorkCover or Centrelink benefits, assisting them to locate suitable housing, to providing counselling for them and their family members – all different ways to help them cope with the major change and turmoil that had been thrust upon their lives.

However, these patients would be discharged when the treating team was satisfied that they had reached a level of recovery that no longer required treatment from the team. This meant my assistance stopped at that point too and I was often left wondering how they managed going forward. Discharge from hospital unfortunately did not always mean a full recovery had been made and it was only after I started working at Slater and Gordon, that my eyes were opened to the ongoing difficulties people living with chronic and serious injury, debility and illness faced.

A serious injury or illness can impact every aspect of a person’s life. For example, it can affect their ability to take care of themselves or others; do basic household tasks; go out into the community; seek and receive treatment; or work and earn an income. An injury or illness may also affect a person’s relationships and they may become socially isolated. Unfortunately, the care and treatment options a person receives is often determined by an insurer as the funder, rather than their doctor, leading to many people receiving inadequate care or support.

Another equally important, but often neglected part of a person’s care after an injury or serious illness is their mental health. How a person manages psychologically after a traumatic experience will obviously depend on the individual and their circumstances, such as whether they had pre-existing mental health issues, how resilient they usually are and whether they have formal and informal supports already in place. But at the end of the day, the mental health impacts on a person’s overall wellbeing can be very serious and must not be ignored.

Unfortunately, mental health issues are a feature in the lives of many of our clients, with depression and anxiety being amongst the most common conditions. Just like a physical injury, depression and anxiety can dominate a person’s life. Many of my clients who have depression often feel worthless, having lost their ability to feel joy, often withdrawing into themselves and isolating from loved ones. Many people with depression often report feeling tired all the time but sleep usually doesn’t come easily or is broken and can experience significant weight changes. When a person has depression, everything can feel like an effort and the world is just too hard to face.

For my clients who have significant anxiety, they often feel agitated, panicky and restless, sometimes to the point where they feel too ‘paralysed’ by fear to even leave the house. Conditions such as depression and anxiety often prevent clients from accessing the treatments they need due to feeling overwhelmed because the process of obtaining insurer approval can seem daunting, or they may be hampered by other practical barriers such as finances, transport or language.

A number of our clients also develop Post Traumatic Distress Disorder, often in conjunction with depression and anxiety diagnoses. In my experience, it’s a sad fact that a number of these clients have not been receiving the specialised treatment they need. The psychological impact of injury and illness coupled with a lack of support and mental health treatment can have such a significant impact that a number of our clients have felt suicidal at times. Clients have often described feeling overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless, stuck in their dark and illogical thoughts, unable to see a way forward in their lives. Thankfully they have expressed these thoughts, even as a casual comment, to one of our legal staff so that they could be referred to our Social Work team to get them the support and treatment they need. I have had more than one client tell me that my call saved their life.

This is why Slater and Gordon has a Social Work department, because we understand that a person’s legal needs often arise in circumstances when they are at their most distressed and vulnerable. Our social work team assists our clients no matter where they are located across Australia. We help them, and at times their family members, with a wide range of practical issues and help manage their mental health by facilitating access to the services and treatment that they need allowing the firm to provide a holistic service to its clients at no additional cost.

We understand from time to time everyone might need additional support. If you require assistance, we have compiled a list of resources for mental health support, financial support and other support services, that may be able to assist.

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

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