Lisa Grimshaw cropped

“I first worked on the mental health wards when I came to Advocacy Focus as a Social Work student on placement, and I remember feeling daunted and overwhelmed with the heightened level of security and entering a locked ward. Clients’ conditions tend to vary but can include schizophrenia, paranoia, severe depression and some with dementia which can be an element of challenging behaviour. On occasions you’d hear clients shouting and displaying aggression, but the wards tend to be well staffed to keep us safe. It felt scary at the time but as time has passed I’ve been exposed to a range of clients presenting challenging conditions which has built by confidence and helped me to adapt my approach to engage people with mental health conditions.

The majority of clients are subject to a section under the Mental Health Act and some are there voluntarily. Some clients are able to say the things they want to say and others are unable to, either due to non-verbal communication or because they’re so unwell that they can’t take in and weigh up information to express their views.

Helping people have a voice in decisions about them makes my job worthwhile.

It’s my job to help people to understand their rights under a section, what this means and how they can challenge what’s happening to them. It’s sad to see people’s mental health deteriorate and lose independence and control but I help by being there to ensure people remain themselves whilst supporting them to regain that control.

I help people as much or as little as they want me to. On occasions when you visit, the client refuses to see you and we respect that choice and come back another day, on other days you’re in a CPA helping your client to request leave or to change their medication.

On occasions I help with drop ins where I go on to the wards and make myself available for patients to have an informal discussion. This can relate to information about getting advocacy support, their rights under the Mental Health Act or taking a self-referral for support. Clients have a right to an advocate under the Mental Health Act, when placed onto a section they tend to be auto-referred, but can opt out. On occasions where clients are unable to communicate and understand their rights when these are read to them, drop ins can provide an extra safeguard to prevent people from slipping through the net. This is incredibly valuable for clients who lack capacity and can’t engage verbally.

Referrals from the drop ins are then taken back to Advocacy Focus to process and begin formal support.

The ward staff work with us by introducing and referring new patients.

Today I met a patient who transferred from another hospital as an informal patient, when she tried to discharge herself, she was placed on a section. I was able to talk through her rights and help her obtain information on the section she was placed under. I referred her into Advocacy Focus and provided her with a list of solicitors to support her in appealing the section.

Some days can be intense but often advocacy is a valuable lifeline for people who are unwell, it feels good to be a part of this.”