LAMH Trains DWP Staff in Mental Health Awareness

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Over the last number of months Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health has been training DWP Jobcentre Plus staff in mental health awareness as part of an ambitious training programme being rolled out nationwide.

More than 200 Jobcentre Plus work coaches across Lanarkshire have attended the in-depth course to help them better support claimants experiencing mental ill health.

Devised by the DWP, LAMH were asked to deliver the course to bring local expertise and lived experience to the table. The expertise of former Employment Support Worker Jack Alexander and my own lived experience of a mental health condition formed crucial elements of the course. 

The recovery journey and the individual

The course itself was firmly rooted in the concept of recovery and the role that Work Coaches play in the recovery journey was a key highlight. But at the absolute centre of the training was the idea of the individual and that working with people with mental illness means listening to and understanding each and every person’s differing needs.

As such, I was able to bring my own experience to the fore and to tell my own recovery story, running it like a thread throughout the various topics of the course. This allowed me to highlight the challenges faced when living with mental illness and trying to find a way back to living a fulfilling and meaningful life including moving back into a work environment. 

The training was comprehensive but focused at one point on how a person with mental ill health might be feeling the first time they visit the Jobcentre – a daunting prospect for most people but harder for those who experience symptoms of mental ill health. Work Coaches learned how to best engage with people and how to use the essential skill of empathic listening to build solid and trusting relationships with claimants.

The right steps at the right time

In this vein, recognising exactly where a person is in their recovery journey was a key aspect of the training. In order to support a person with a mental health condition fully, Work Coaches need to find out what each individual is capable of so they can work on a sustainable plan toward the future.

It was pointed out to work coaches that for some people part of their action plan could be as simple as getting out of the house once a day, or engaging with their Community Mental Health Team. For others, volunteer work might be an option, or further education could be the right thing. 

The main point here is making achievable goals that will aid recovery rather than expecting people to overreach, essentially pushing them backward. 

Stigma and seeing the person

We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t talk about stigma. Throughout the course we reinforced the fact that people with mental illness do not want to be spoken to differently from anyone else. People want to be treated as people. We touched on the fact that a claimant will pick up on stigma straight away, which will only serve to make them feel isolated.

In addition a key point was seeing the whole person, not just the illness. As someone with a mental illness, I know I am not defined by it. I have strengths and abilities and hopes and dreams like anyone else. There is a lot more to me than a label and this was a key point I wanted to make. 

Seeing the whole person and using a strengths-based approach to build someone’s self esteem is one of the most important things a Work Coach can do.

Moving forward

A workforce trained to better support people experiencing mental illness is now in every Lanarkshire Jobcentre and the new ways of working should already be benefiting claimants. The Jobcentre may be a daunting place to visit for the first time, but it should now be a place where people with mental ill health can be fully supported in their recovery by taking the right steps at the right time.

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