#MyWork: Mental Health Social Worker

In this column, we look at the interesting vocations in which our community members are involved.

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Melbourne’s NIRALI DHRUVE tells us about her work helping people with mental health needs.

My job title

Intake and Referral Social Worker – Mental & Allied Health

I have been in this field for

16 years, eight of these predominantly engaged in community health

My educational qualifications

I have a Masters’ degree in Social Work, augmented with a course in Mental Health dealing with suicidal clients.

My work profile and programs that I work for

I am associated with two mental health programs: ‘LIFT’ also known as ‘Stepped Care Model for Mental Health’, and ‘Head to Help’ also known as Mental Health Hub.

At Mental Health Hub, my role requires me to identify initially the mental health concerns of the client, assess their eligibility, care plan and urgency, along with linking them with psychologists/counsellors and/or other social and health services available in the local community.

‘LIFT’ is a free mental health service for people of all ages who live, work, or study in the northern metro region of Melbourne who cannot afford or access similar services, including asylum seekers. They get support from mental health nurses, psychologists and counsellors, care coordinators and peer workers. I engage with clients needing help with mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, mental health disorders and suicidal thoughts. I ensure that every person seeking help receives timely and relevant care from a specialist in their local community. Our wide client base includes local community members without income or on healthcare cards, the homeless, refugees, women with family violence issues, and children who have no access to support service or are under child protection orders.

Head to Help, another service program, is part of my job profile since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. When a mental health concern is referred by the mental health service or emergency department of a hospital or through calls directly, using Referral Decision Support Tool (IAR-DST), I identify their needs and type of support and services required through preliminary assessment, using a series of clinical and social questions. A caller/client may be referred to existing services or to one of the Head to Help services which offer a multidisciplinary team to help with more complex needs.

READ ALSO: #MyWork: Genetic Counsellor

What’s hard about my job

My work is fulfilling and rewarding but can also be emotionally taxing. It can be challenging, establishing rapport and trust-based relationships with high-risk clients concerned with confidentiality.

Mental illness can be caused by abuse but having a mental illness can leave a person vulnerable to abuse too. Our clients are vulnerable to abuse in many forms – physical, sexual, psychological, financial, discriminatory and neglect. This abuse, intentional or unintentional, can come from many sources like friends, family, neighbours, strangers and even care professionals. Working with vulnerable people puts a Social Worker in a position of power, both real and perceived, and it is important that this is not abused.

Communication can be a struggle. Apart from hallucinations and delusions, some people don’t have the motivation to communicate, while others lack the confidence.

mental health

How COVID-19 has changed my work practice

COVID has exacerbated anxiety and mental health issues in the community. My Community Health Centre in Melbourne has seen a 55% increase in phone calls reporting stress and anxiety, hopelessness, and an inability to cope. We now have a waitlist for our clients and are facing a shortage of staff due to this increased demand. The mental health care system is struggling along with public health care system.

Working virtually has been challenging, especially in a field where direct interaction and communication are so vital.

Juggling work with home schooling of children can be overwhelming, but I have learned to be more organised and disciplined about my work.

Looking after my own mental and physical health, keeping work-life balance and staying positive, are of great significance in times like these.

The positive aspects of my work

The most rewarding part of working at a Community Health Centre are the clients. They come from all walks of life, with unique experiences, strengths, attributes, and traumas. They carry with them their own distinctive intersecting social identities like race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and age, which play a major role in therapy and make it an interesting experience to get to know them personally and professionally.

It’s a good feeling to know I’ve helped improve the quality of life for some of the most marginalized groups of people in the healthcare system. Apart from this I also get an opportunity to learn ways to work effectively with a wide variety of healthcare professionals (physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, counsellors, etc.)

Advice for people who may need mental health services

If someone you know is affected by a mental health issue, support from friends, family and health professionals plays a significant role in their coping and recovery process. You can make a big difference through small gestures like listening, keeping in touch, and showing you care.

There are many free and low-cost state and federal funded mental health services available. You can contact your GP, nearest public hospital, or local council to learn more.

The following are some other useful numbers you could try:

Beyond Blue Call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.

Black Dog Institute Online help.

Lifeline Call 13 11 14 or chat online.

Suicide Call Back Service Call 1300 659 467.

READ ALSO: #MyWork: Landscape Architect

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