‘A social worker saved my life’

A service user and ‘expert by experience’ gives an emotional and courageous explanation of why she’s fighting for social workers to get the recognition they deserve

Iris Benson

Iris Benson, a service user rep at Mersey Care Mental Health NHS Trust has had involvement with social workers since she was very young. In this video, she explains why she stands up for social work as much as she possibly can:

‘They’ve walked in my shoes’

Iris was very keen to make this video, even though it involved looking back to her early experiences of severe abuse and trauma which have had a significant impact on her mental health in adult life.

She was very scared of social workers as a child. On the two occasions she was temporarily placed in children’s homes, the medical examinations, itchy uniform and strict regime made her think it was she because she’d “been bad”. However, Iris says in the video, the social workers who have supported her as an adult literally saved her life.

The things that social workers have done – asking questions gently rather than pushing, coming back even when Iris ‘tested’ them and told them to go away, spending time with her in hospital after episodes of self-injury – may not sound huge but have made a big difference.

“They’ve had staying power, and they’ve walked in my shoes, even at the most difficult times,” she says.

Iris says her journey to recovery is ongoing. For example, her social worker helps her avoid the retraumatising trigger of pine disinfectant (a smell she associates with abuse by her mother) by making sure it isn’t used in places she goes.

But Iris is also now in a position to help social workers and other professionals better understand how to support people, in her role as an ‘expert by experience’ at Mersey Care. As well as co-producing and delivering training on, for example, implementing the Mental Capacity Act, she is involved in recruitment of staff at all levels and is service user lead on Mersey Care’s No Force First programme which aims to eliminate the use of restrictive interventions such as seclusion and restraint.

“Service users really don’t care if the service being provided comes from a doctor or a social worker…“All they want is a professional that’s going to listen, empathise…look at them as a human being first rather than an illness.”

Community Care Inform Adults subscribers can watch an extended video in which Iris and Emad explain how the trust is making best use of experts by experience when recruiting and training practitioners and developing policies and guidelines, including helping professionals from social work and health disciplines develop common ways of working.

This example of good practice is part Community Care Inform’s integration knowledge and practice hub.

She has joined Emad Lilo, social care professional lead at the trust at numerous conferences and events to highlight how they work together and uses every opportunity to advocate for how important she believes social work is.

“We need more social workers. But we also need people like me to speak up for them too,” Iris points out.

“I think we lose people because they’ve become burned out with their passion.

“If teams like ours had been around when I was little, my life would have been very different. We need to look after our social workers, not frighten them off.”

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One Response to ‘A social worker saved my life’

  1. Jo April 5, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    Thank you Iris. Brought a tear to my eye. After the extreme journey you have been on. So glad we are now making a positive difference. You are correct though burn out is huge. I know its on my horizon. Having the privilage to have service users like yourself is what keeps me in. Take care.