Within social care there are so many avenues to consider. Our community has continually commented on the passion to empower others that drives them forward, and the brilliant thing is that there’s such versatility available to practitioners in regards to who they can work with. Although officially we’re usually divided by whether you work with Children or Adults, in actual fact there are so many demographics in society that require support from social workers and care professionals that our work can be remarkably varied. One segment of our population we should consider with World Health Day this week is those who are living with a chronical illness. While not everyone with a serious illness requires the involvement of a social worker, at times they can benefit from a practitioner’s perspective.
Chronic illnesses can manifest in many ways, however usually they take a strong emotional toll on the mental health of the individual, as they have to process the way their life has to adapt. They normally need to deal with lots of feelings of grief, depression and anxiety; and that process can be made easier with the assistance of a mental health professional or a practitioner with experience working with the chronically ill. At times, there is a failure on the part of medical professionals to see beyond the medical condition itself to the wider social and economic factors that come into play when someone has a severe illness. Regularly the individual cannot work because of their illness or their socio-economic background restricts the treatment available to them. This not just adds to the mental health turmoil, but could have a real impact on the health of the person and how they manage their illness. Hence, social workers can enter the picture to facilitate the necessary changes and guide the ill person towards a positive place in their life.
If you’re working with people who are living with a serious or terminal illness, then you need to ensure you understand the situation they are facing and recognise the different elements to bear in mind throughout the process.
They're Not In This Alone
Everyone needs a community. A tribe of people who help them, care for them and make them feel loved. This is of even more importance for people living with a chronic illness; as they usually need to rely on family and friends for help with tasks and chores which beforehand, they would have done themselves. So, consider the people close to the ill person. What is their role? How are they being impacted by the illness? How much is the terminally ill person relying on specific people, or are they not seeking external support enough? No one is an island, and a chronic illness does not impact only the person diagnosed. You may need to find support groups for the family and friends of the ill person or help them to find pockets of positivity in amongst the trauma of the illness. This usually also requires an understanding the symptoms and effects of anticipatory grief on the social workers part.
Don't Treat Them Like China Dolls
Yes, a chronic illness means the individual may be restricted physically or mentally; thereby affecting your interactions. However, that shouldn’t diminish their inner strength and the respect they are shown. Chronic illnesses can be debilitating, but they do not always stop people from making valuable contributions to society. Take the time to make sure you’re not either overestimating the restrictions the illness places upon a person and make sure the structures you help them build allow for as much “normal” life as possible.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Every human is different in one way or another. That’s the beauty of us, really. We all approach the world in a different way, see through a different lens and look different to each other. We are built to not be the same. However, unfortunately that does mean that when we get ill, we’ll most likely not react in the same ways. There be changes in symptoms or severity of illnesses across communities, bringing with them the need for a highly personalised service. Practitioners should ensure that all interactions with the service user not only considers the illness they have, but their previous lifestyle and how pre-existing passions or troubles may affect them as they adapt to a new system. A terminal diagnosis may trigger previous mental health conditions, or the intense changes could lead to delayed extreme reactions. Every case needs to be treated with the utmost thought and consideraution, as every one is unique.
While you're here...
We want to build our social work collective on your ideas, and champion the causes that matter to you. OSS Membership is our way to bring together our community, allowing us to all speak with one voice and enact real change that matters for those on the front-line. Our mission is to support social workers across the UK, but we can’t do it without you. Social work is only worth celebrating because of the excellent practitioners who work tirelessly every day to protect the vulnerable members of our society. You are the ones who matter, and it’s your opinions and ideas that we want to drive our community.