How SMILE helped my client
Chris Smart (Skills Development Scotland)
I work for SDS careers – based in Livingston. But I cover the whole of West Lothian – which gives me a lot of opportunity to work closely with partners and get a good feel for what provision is available.
I support young people, during transition from school – then when they’ve left, to overcome barriers, gain and sustain a positive destination, and generally navigate all the options and choices out there. A lot of the clients I work with don’t have help at home so it’s a bit like a mentoring role, which I enjoy.
We then offer guidance and support to help clients achieve their longer term career goals. I can work with young people from the age of 16 to 20 and it’s a privilege to get the chance to offer this long term support to those who need it.
I personally feel SMILE has come along at just the right time. As a Trusted Professional, I’m acutely aware of the lack of counselling support available for vulnerable young people. This is a sentiment that’s echoed amongst other Trusted Professionals in West Lothian.
I’m sure most would agree our work is very rewarding but also challenging at times. And recently, I experienced one of those challenging times. I was working with a young man, about to leave school, let’s call him ‘Lewis’ for the sake of anonymity.
‘Lewis’ recently gained a place at West Lothian College doing Sport and Fitness which, on the face of it, is great. He starts in August. But when you scratch below the surface, he’d also been feeling really low for some time and was beginning to feel desperate. He had no hope for the future. A couple of months ago he told me he wanted to end his own life and had thought of ways of doing so. I knew he wasn’t kidding or trying to seek attention. He would always play things down and hated being in the limelight. So I had to take this seriously.
I was racking my brain, frantically trying to remember the suicide prevention training I received many years ago. Basically, I was just trying to keep ‘Lewis’ safe until I could pass him onto someone trained to help. I felt a wee bit like a rabbit in the headlights but did my best to remain calm and give ‘Lewis’ the impression things would be fine.
‘Lewis’ was already on a waiting list after seeing his GP, to receive help from the team at St John’s, but had been waiting for months. I was genuinely concerned if he was made to wait any longer it may be too late. One of the first things we did was phone the Samaritans.
After ‘Lewis’ borrowed my phone to speak with them for over an hour that afternoon, he looked relieved, as if a weight had been lifted. This was also a relief for me. But I then needed to tap into some ongoing local support to gain 1:1 counselling to help him get through what was troubling him.
I’d worked with Declan before and referred clients to him in his role as a council Key Worker but never in a ‘SMILE’ capacity. But Declan had kept me in the loop regarding his plans for SMILE and how the service would soon be available for clients Trusted Professionals tend to work with.
So I contacted Declan to ask if he or another SMILE counsellor was able to meet with ‘Lewis’, diagnose the support needed then go from there. Declan couldn’t have been better. He agreed to meet ‘Lewis’ the very next day. I was invited along to sit in on the first appointment, where I completed the referral form.
It was clear ‘Lewis’ was in safe hands. Declan’s professional approach, care, empathy and overall supportive, non-judgemental manner could not have been better. ‘Lewis’ was immediately put at ease. Declan’s attention to detail was brilliant – I felt there was no stone unturned. For example, Declan even rang me a couple of hours before the appointment to ask what kind of juice ‘Lewis’ drinks so he could go out and buy some. I know it sounds like a wee thing, but I really felt my client was in safe hands. He was working with an organisation that genuinely cared and wanted him to feel comfortable, putting him at ease from the start. Declan quickly built rapport by discovering mutual areas of interest and lightening the mood which relaxed ‘Lewis’ hugely.
As you can probably tell from the way I’m telling this story, I was more than happy with the support SMILE provided. From the initial contact with Declan, to the ongoing support ‘Lewis’ received from Laura, the service provided by SMILE could not have been better.
And as I mentioned, the speed of turnaround was also really impressive. Declan saw my client less than 24 hours after initial contact. I know this is not going to be the case with all referrals, but Declan and I both felt this was an emergency and SMILE could not have acted quicker.
‘Lewis’, until recently was still receiving support from SMILE and so far things are going well thanks to this timely intervention. ‘Lewis’ has fed back to me that he’s feeling so much better thanks to the ongoing support Laura was providing.
I have no doubt that ‘Lewis’ received the service he needed. He feels so much better now, both in terms of how he sees himself but also his general outlook and optimism for life moving forward. He’s like a different person.
As a Trusted Professional, I can definitely see how valuable SMILE is going to be locally and the difference it’s going to make both now and in the future. There’s no doubt about it. I have already passed on my own thoughts and experiences concerning SMILE to other Trusted Professionals within SDS and have a feeling that there may be more referrals coming in SMILE’s direction.
And I have mixed feelings when I say that. On the one hand, it’s very sad that so many YP are in the position they need help to overcome the emotional hurt and pain they’re experiencing. It’s clearly a major issue in our society at the moment. It’s not for me to speculate why, or to try to go into the reasons for this. I’m just really glad that there’s now this precious support in place for those who need it. I’d like to say thanks to everyone at SMILE and all the very best for the future.
BLES TRAINING CASE STUDIES
Callum, age 16, found his Mum dead at home of a heroin overdose in May this year and admitted he did not know how to deal with his grief. His attendance was affected by this and post mortem results only came through on 27th July with the funeral then taking place the following week. As a result of all the trauma once again, Callum turned to alcohol and drank for two days making himself ill. We did make allowances for Callum because of his personal issues and did return to BLES. He talked with Anne at length about his feelings of hating his Mum, how he found it hard staying with his Dad now as he didn’t really know his Dad and the feeling of just not wanting to get up in the morning. He voiced on a number of occasions that he felt there was no point to anything anymore and although he did like it at BLES and wanted to come in to training, it felt like something physical was stopping him. We did try to arrange bereavement counselling but the only suggestion was that he was referred via CAHMS which has an eighteen month waiting list! He did not want his attendance to continue to be as bad as it had been and decided to end training.
Daniel is a young man aged 17 who when he joined BLES, admitted he did have anger issues and did not work well in groups. Daniel has progressed enormously within the BLES environment however recently we did notice a change in Daniel’s behaviour which raised concerns. One day, Daniel reported to the office and was in tears and very distressed. He talked at length with Anne and Lynne which included thoughts of suicide, self harm and generally, not wanting to be part of life any more. As a result of this episode, we did contact various people to see if he could be referred for the correct counselling however were told that Daniel should speak to his doctor to be referred via CAHMS but would face an eighteen month wait. Things appeared to settle for a couple of weeks then the same cycle started again however when talking to Anne and Jean, he confirmed he had a suicide plan in place to jump from the Forth Road Bridge. He knew exactly how to get through a barrier to reach the bridge. Again, we talked at length with Daniel and during the conversation, it came to light his home life is not as it should be with him being bullied from both his older brothers and sister. This bullying does more often than not revert to physical violence with Daniel being beat up. He does try to get his Mum on side with him but in Daniel’s words, she sees him as “being a waste of space”, therefore the support is not there for him from his parent. After a row with his family recently, he admitted he had walked to Edinburgh (where he used to stay) and slept in a tree. His Mum had not tried to contact him to see where he was. Daniel feels totally alone with no-one there to support him. He also admitted he smokes cannabis on a regular basis and describes himself as a heavy user although does not want to stop smoking as this is his only release from his life.
Liam, age 16, smokes cannabis and drinks at weekends when with his friends. His parents are separated and their relationship is not good. His Mum is a heavy drinker and this leads to arguments and Liam constantly being kicked out of the house. He also told us he saw his Mum “shooting up” with heroin when he was 4 years old and remembers the look in her eyes. He has attempted to speak to family members about this on a number of occasions and they are not interested and tell him he’s making it up. He did stay with his gran for a while however because of his cannabis smoking and drinking, his gran did not want him to stay. He received a large sum of money which increased his circle of “friends” for a while but needless to say, once the money was gone, so were his friends. Liam considers himself to be depressed but doesn’t want to go to the doctor and again the support from his parents is not there to encourage him to get help. Obviously smoking cannabis is not helping but Liam sees this as the only thing that’s helping him. He feels he is constantly let down by everyone around him and feels so alone and no-one to turn to.