Karenza’s Story: A Day in the Life Of… Mental Health Practitioner
Sometimes, especially if I have had a particularly emotionally challenging day, my job can feel overwhelming. On days like this, I remind myself that I am only one person and I’ve tried my best. I also remind myself that humans are incredibly resilient beings.
I’m Karenza and I have been a Mental Health Practitioner at Manchester Mind’s Children and Young People’s Service since March 2019. My job is to provide mental health support to students within four schools across Manchester, working in each school one day per week.
In this role, no day is the same. Aside from being in a different location every day of the week (yes, I have on occasion sleepily started driving to the wrong school!) every young person that I work with has unique strengths, qualities, but also difficulties that they need support with. However, my typical working day normally goes something like this:
08:20: Park up at today’s school a little early. I like having a few minutes in my car to skim-read the news, reply to a message from a friend, or simply chill out and prepare myself for the day ahead.
08:30: Sign in at the school reception and receive my staff badge featuring a rather unflattering image of my face. I then go and say good morning to the school staff who help facilitate my role within the school, check how everyone is and ask whether there are any issues I need to be aware of. After this, I make my way to the room I’ll be based in for the day.
09:00: My first student arrives – a young women in Year 11 who is struggling with stress and anxiety related to her upcoming GCSEs. I normally work with students for between 6-12 weeks; we have been working together for a few weeks now. Today we chat about having a healthy work/life balance during exam time, as recently she (like many Year 11 students I see) has given up activities that she previously enjoyed doing, in order to spend almost all of her time frantically revising. I encourage her to see that spending time doing things she enjoys will not only improve her mental health, but also help, not hinder, her exam success. Together, we create a revision timetable that schedules in time for fun and relaxing activities to help reduce her anxiety.
10:00: My second student this morning is here for their first session. After chatting about their hobbies, likes and dislikes for a while, they explain that they have been suffering from panic attacks recently. Together, we sensitively start exploring what might trigger these feelings and what a panic attack feels like to them. I also demonstrate some breathing and grounding techniques the student can use when they start to feel anxious or panicked. The student thinks these techniques will be helpful and says they will practice them this week.
11:00: It’s break-time; time for me to weave through the rush hour traffic of the school corridors to the bathroom, weave back, have a snack, and prepare for my next student.
11:15: My next student knocks on the door. This young man struggles to release his feelings of anger in ways which do not involve hurting himself or other people. He (like many young people) finds it difficult to talk about how he is feeling. Because of this, I always bring a ‘toolbox’ to schools with me, filled with a variety of bits and bobs to help explore emotions in a more creative way. Today our ‘tools’ are playdoh (which helps us explore what things make him feel angry) and balloons (which allow us to practice breathing deeply and slowly to release those angry feelings). At the end of the session we pop the balloons, which we both enjoy!
12:15: This student and I have been working together for a few weeks now. They have a difficult relationship with their family, which is affecting them emotionally both at home and at school. There are rarely any quick fixes or simple solutions to the complexity of family dynamics and relationships, which sometimes makes it difficult supporting young people in situations like this student is in. However, I am often reminded in this job of the Ernest Hemmingway quote, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”. Often young people are not asking me for simple solutions, they simply want someone to show care, interest and empathy in them and their life, which I am more than happy to do.
13:15: Lunchtime; sometimes if I am feeling adventurous, I will go and get some fresh air. However today’s lunchtime is spent rather un-mindfully shovelling sandwiches in my face with one hand, whilst typing emails, assessments and case notes with the other, all the while trying to avoid the dreaded ‘breadcrumbs stuck in the laptop keyboard’ scenario.
14:00: My last student of the day has been struggling with low-mood. In today’s session, we talk about the overpowering nature of negative thoughts, what they look and sound like to her, but also the importance of actively noticing and appreciating the good things in our lives, however small they may be. I ask her to recall her week and then write down one thing she was grateful for, one thing she learned, one thing she achieved and one thing that brought her joy. She said that this exercise “shocked” her, as it made her appreciate some good moments in her week that she otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. She left school for the day feeling positive, which made me feel positive too.
15:00: Time to finish paperwork and process the day. Sometimes, especially if I have had a particularly emotionally challenging day, my job can feel overwhelming. On days like this, I remind myself that I am only one person and I’ve tried my best. I also remind myself that humans are incredibly resilient beings, so although the students I see are often faced with adverse and challenging circumstances, they also have enormous amounts of strength, skill, intelligence and compassion, which I know will take them all far in life.
15:30: Check in with the school staff again. As usual they have had a busy day, however still find the time to catch up with me and see if there is anything else they can do to support the students I have seen today. It is important that all the adults in the students’ lives work together to improve their wellbeing, so I am grateful for the school staff’s support.
16:00: Home time; time to pop on a feel-good playlist (at the moment I’m enjoying Spotify’s ‘Songs to Sing in the Shower’) and drive back home to relax and recharge for the evening.