Case study

Graduate mental health worker — Jessica McCluskey

Jessica offers help and advice on a support line for those with mental health issues. Find out about the variety involved in the job

How did you get your job?

While at university and throughout my sandwich year, I built up lots of experience in support worker roles and voluntary projects involving mentoring and working with my university's mental health service.

I saw the job advertised and applied.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

All of the modules I took in my degree around therapeutic approaches to mental health, as well as the wider psychological theories and practices that I learned about, have enabled me to deliver an effective service in my role.

The experience that I gained during my degree gave me practical skills, which I now use every day with patients.

What's a typical working day like?

My role involves operating a support line in South West London for patients and the public who are in mental health distress. I work mostly out of my office.

There's never any way of predicting how busy each day will be or what kind of calls I'll receive. Some days can be quiet; mainly advice and reassurance, while others can be full of calls from new patients presenting with a range of mental health problems.

How has your role developed?

As I have become more confident in my role over the last year I talk in more depth to patients and often employ a range of therapeutic techniques.

My career ambition is to eventually embark upon a doctorate in clinical psychology.

What do you enjoy about working in mental health?

I can genuinely say that every single day, even hour, of my job is completely different. By now I must have attended to hundreds of patients, all with entirely different diagnoses, concerns and backgrounds, so it's always interesting and challenging.

At university you get taught the framework of the major therapies but in practise there are so many factors to consider, which makes the job completely fascinating.

What are the challenges?

The patients that I deal with are always suffering with some kind of mental health distress and some have a very complex diagnosis, including personality disorders, meaning not everyone has a pleasant and polite manner on the phone.

Sometimes callers can be quite provocative and this can be challenging as it's vital to always stay professional for both the patient's wellbeing and my own.

What are the best things about working in the public sector?

One of the best things is that it's patient driven, and therefore completely variable, but it also involves working for the NHS where you are valued, looked after and respected.

What advice can you give to others?

Get as much work experience as possible. Try to have contact with different patient groups as it's useful to have a broad experience.

Support worker roles provide good experience for learning how to interact successfully with various patients, which is one of the most fundamental and important skills to learn.

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