By John Bell- West Yorkshire Peer Support Worker
I present to you the first blog in a three-part series, which will describe my initial impressions of working in forensic psychology as a Peer Support Worker. Part One will focus on my first visit to the office, Part Two will centre around my first ward visit and Part Three will provide details of my first community appointment.
Truthfully speaking, the first visit to the hospital I’m based out of was a thoroughly daunting experience.
Sure, I was welcomed on my arrival with warm smiles and genuine pleasantries, yet if you haven’t ever visited a hospital dedicated to mental health, there are several sights you might not be used to.
For instance, what initially threw me off my guard, was the sheer amount and sizes of the security fences around the site. They’re huge and pose quite intimidating figures. My first thought was how they reminded me of some sort of modern, medieval castle (minus the moat). However, with that in mind I couldn’t help thinking in that moment how castles were built to keep people out, whereas this site has been solely constructed to keep people in!
Was this the right job for me? Now, I have lived experience with mental health issues and in all honesty, there have been instances with regards to my past experiences where I could have easily ended up entering this hospital as a service user and not a member of staff, although this wasn’t the case for me, I suddenly feared I might be out of my depth.
That fear increased with just walking from the car park to the office. I say walking from the car park to the office as if it’s a simple act. It isn’t. Quite the opposite. The walk genuinely takes proceeding through twelve sets of security doors to reach the office. You enter the building by being buzzed in, next there is an airlock where you swap your identification card for a personal alarm device and set of security keys. On exiting the airlock comes a quick test to make sure alarm device is charged and in working order (the key is to test it without setting off all the alarms, which in my experience is easier said than done – such fiddly things). This is followed by a decent walk to the office passing through the remaining nine security doors to get there. Each door you pass through just reaffirms that this hospital isn’t like “normal” ones and that one deviation from the rules in place could see yours or other people safety in jeopardy. Finally, though once the mini expedition is over it takes a good five minutes just to get your breath back and fight off the impending sweat attack!
A decent brew alongside a friendly chat with my new colleagues and my initial fears started to evaporate. Sure, the environment when new can appear intimidating, maybe completely off putting to some. Yet when I spoke to my lovely, supportive team about my fears and concerns, each of them was addressed with dignity, compassion and ultimately laid to rest. It felt comparable to a child telling their parents/guardian their fear of a monster in the room and then they in turn check under the bed, inside the wardrobes, behind the doors etc to reassure their child.
With this new sense of reassured confidence, I felt ready to tackle my first ward visit, which I will describe for you in part two of this series.