Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Speaking with the Emotionally Fragile

Guest Blogger- Kelly Mitchell, BA

This week and next, I’m meeting 1:1 with 21 people who just last week I spent 5 days with, exploring career possibilities and learning about themselves. The purpose of our individual meetings is to give them feedback on their participation in the process, sum up what they got out of the experience, and what steps lie before them in both the short and long-term.

Among the things they all share in common is that each of these people are currently in receipt of social assistance; getting help with their rent and food while they rebuild their lives. Of those in attendance, what you may find interesting is that quite a few disclosed in the group or to me individually over the week that they are dealing with issues of depression and anxiety either on a frequent or regular basis. So you can imagine how proud I am of all of them for coming out, doing some self-assessments of their skills, abilities, values, and needs with respect to jobs and careers.

I met with one such person yesterday for about 90 minutes. I asked about her living arrangements in order to find out how stable this part of her life is, as stable housing is a prerequisite to finding employment. She mentioned that she lives with her younger brother, but previously lived with an older brother, her mother before that, her father before that, and with both her mom and dad prior to a messy divorce. Having revealed all this to me, I asked her how she felt moving around during that period. And it was at this point that I was glad I had thought to put a box of tissue within reach of her.

All her feelings of being inconvenient, in the way, unappreciated, passed off as a burden and a source of frustration for others flooded out. That one inquiry I’d made touched a sensitive and raw area that on the surface of things was invisible, but internally she was carrying it so close to the surface that the slightest mention of her feelings caused her it pour out.

At a moment such as this, you’ve got to know how prepared you are yourself to have someone break down in front of you in such an obvious trusting and honest way. The key for me personally is that it’s not about me, but about them; and at that moment, it was pretty clear she was in need of a slight pause in the conversation – even though we’d pretty much just begun – to compose herself. She apologized. I get that of course, but why apologize?

At age 25, here she was before me, an emotionally sensitive woman still experiencing the trauma from the messy divorce of her parents and being shuffled around from family member to family member because she was not wanted by any of them until she landed with a younger brother. She’s been robbed of the security and stability of an intact parental pairing and has yet to fully work through this loss.

Counselling of course came immediately to mind as a viable addition to her support team in moving forward. Unfortunately, she mentioned that she is distrustful of counsellors because it was a counsellor arranged by her father that first told her that her parents were about to get a divorce and that it would be very messy. That unfortunate experience has jaded her from giving counselling a second chance. I’m still hopeful that this option for her becomes one she takes me up on, especially when it’s free for her entirely and just down the hall from where we were meeting, so it’s in a place she currently trusts and visits.

We meet people every day in our lives who are experiencing trauma, dealing with anxiety, and depression. Some of these issues become known to us and at other times they are invisible, but we deal with the people nonetheless perhaps never knowing what they are really dealing with and working through.

What makes encounters with those experiencing mental health issues unique from physical health issues is that they are not immediately apparent, and therefore the rest of us might not come to the same conclusions with respect to the behaviours we observe. So while a person wearing a cast gets a, “Gee how did that happen? Let me get the door for you,” the depressed person might get a, “What’s your issue? Smile a little, it wont’ kill you.” And if those with mental health issues did wear identifying labels on their foreheads we might be paralyzed ourselves in wondering how to even start talking to them when we saw 5 or 6 labels on one person alone.

For me personally, I have found that just sitting and listening, opening the door to a disclosure, making no promises of a quick fix, but engaging in a safe relationship where it’s okay to share something personally important works.

People with anxiety and depression can be valuable additions to an employer. They deserve success, happiness, and employment just like anyone else, and in many cases will work with appreciation for the opportunity. Initially they may need extra support, a kind Supervisor as they stretch themselves and what they can do. Just imagine how grateful and committed an employee you’d be getting if they could share their triggers with you and not be taken advantage of or dismissed for doing so.

Something to consider.

*First posted at:  and re-posted with permission.

Aging/Gerontology, News, Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Theatrical Presentation on Elder Abuse: Arm Yourself with Knowledge

I attended a play on Elder Abuse this past weekend titled: “Grandpa Is Not a Cash Cow & Grandma Won’t Take Any Bull” organized by Seniors Action Quebec. It was excellent! The cast, except for 3, were all seniors. Le Theatre La Belle Gang presented. The play was written by Francois Jobin and directed by Marie-Claude Henault.

Issues of financial, emotional, verbal abuse, and psychological abuse were addressed in vivid, humorous, and easily recognizable vignettes. Physical abuse and sexual abuse were not outwardly addressed, but these are a bit harder to portray within a play.

Examples of the vignettes are: adult children (sisters) discussing placement while older adult present (recently suffered a stroke), but not including her in the decision-making. A grandchild that approaches her grandfather seeking money for a class trip and this was suggested by the adult child (grandpa’s daughter), an adult daughter who is verbally abusive towards her mother and demanding a check supposedly to be used to pay the mother’s bills, residents in a senior residence sitting around talking and waiting for their Sunday visitors that might show (children and grandchildren), an adult son talking on the phone to a friend saying that if his mother, who baby sat his sister’s kids, will not take his 2-year-old daughter for the weekend, she will see the granddaughter much less often, and the infamous scam of a ‘company’ coming to a senior residence and promising the world, taking the residents money, and giving nothing in return. Another scene was of a ‘doting’ niece who started paying extra special attention to her aunt when the uncle died and suggested that her aunt update her will.

Getting older is not easy, but it does not have to be negative. There may be more dependence on others for IADL’s, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living; cleaning, meal preparation, shopping, transportation, finances, medical appointments, medication management, communication and/or ADL’s- Activities of Daily Living; bathing, toileting, dressing, feeding, ambulating (mobility), cognitive issues, auditory or visual challenges, and fewer socialization opportunities. Household management becomes more difficult and often adult children and grandchildren live out-of-town and a senior has to rely on the community, friends, and agencies or organizations for assistance.

Possible Abuse: What to Look out for and What to Do:

Potential Signs of Abuse:

  • They criticize me
  • They ignore me
  • They isolate me from others
  • I am dependent on others
  • They take control of my affairs, i.e. finances, medication, medical appointments, hiring of homecare assistance, etc.
  • They boss me around
  • They raise their voice to me and at me
  • I am lonely
  • I am depressed
  • I cry often
  • They ask me for money all the time
  • I have no decision-making power

To Counter the Possible Abuse:

  • Say no! Assert yourself to family members, friends, and acquaintances.
  • It is your life and you should be able to go out and do as you please without approval.
  • You can call or talk to whomever you want.
  • You have socialization activities whether playing cards, exercising, attending a social group or meeting friends for lunch to keep you busy.
  • Call your local, provincial or state Elder Abuse Hotline for information, clarification, with specific questions. Arm yourself with knowledge!

Some Resources:

  2. CSSS Cavendish in Cote St. Luc, Quebec-   or 514-484-7878.
  4. (French)

By Victoria Brewster, MSW