Melissa's Story

When I was in secondary school in Hounslow, our school used to host activities for charities in the local area, and that’s what made me want to work in social care.

After I left school, I started a social work degree at Middlesex University. I needed to do a placement as part of it, and Hestia took me on board as part of its Mental Health Floating Support team. I used to want to work with children, but as soon as I started working with adults, I fell in love with it.

I took a few years out after my degree, travelling round Australia as I have family there. When I came back, I applied for a full-time job with Hestia and have been part of the team ever since.

I started in one of Hestia’s high support services. Now I work part time as a senior recovery case worker at the Hounslow Hospital Discharge, supporting homeless people after they have been discharged from hospital to prevent readmission. I also work part time as an assistant coordinator at the Enhanced Dementia Care Service, preventing hospital admissions for people living with dementia.

The roles are varied and can include anything from planning ways for service users achieve their goals, to putting up decorations to celebrate a service user’s birthday. It really is different every day.

For me, the best part of my job is seeing someone go from being in hospital to becoming independent. We meet people at the very beginning of their journey and provide them with the tools they need to start walking on their own two feet, whether that’s setting them up with benefits, working with their family or finding them accommodation. Seeing someone move out of our care, keys to their new home in hand, is an amazing feeling.

I remember one woman we supported who struggled with her memory. We set up a system, putting colour-coded sticky notes in her room and around the service, writing things like ‘you can find Melissa in the office’, so that when she woke up, she knew where she could find me. We got her a calendar to prompt her memory and I started taking her on regular shopping trips. She started to trust me, and over time, she started to remember who I was.

We managed to get care workers in place and eventually help her move into sheltered accommodation, decorating it exactly how she wanted. That was a few years ago now, but I recently took someone else to a view a property at the same accommodation and bumped into her and said hello. It’s good to look back and feel like you’ve really made a difference in someone’s life.

The main thing I’ve learnt in my role is that recovery is different for everyone, and it’s our job to understand what recovery means to the individual. For some people, just getting out of bed is an achievement, and all achievements need to be celebrated. Stigma still exists; many people assume that homelessness or a mental health diagnosis is a life sentence. It’s not, it’s part of a journey, and I’ve seen that anyone can change their situation.

One man I support has psychosis, and he was in a very stable place with his mental health until one day, he was triggered and started to relapse. Our job is to understand the signs of relapse, intervene and prevent hospital readmission, which we managed to do. Relapse is part of recovery, too. It’s not a straight road.

Last year, I became a qualified practice educator, meaning I support social work students who are on the placement that I once did. Before I even did the course I would take the students in our service under my wing, because I knew what it felt like to be in their shoes. One woman I was supervising recently got a job with Hestia. It’s lovely to see students who are apprehensive at first grow into the role and become confident.

The goal for me is to eventually become a manager, perhaps working with even more service users and staff, and being able to see more people achieve what they want to and move forward in life. That’s the main thing.

Which film has impacted me the most?

My flat is filled with Harry Potter things, like Bellatrix Lestrange’s ‘Wanted’ poster and death eater wands. I support the villains in Harry Potter because I’m so good at work! I get to be on the evil side. My favourite film is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Which book has impacted me the most?

I have all of Karl Pilkington’s books. I like The Moaning of Life: The Worldly Wisdom of Karl Pilkington. He’s just an average guy who gives his thoughts about the most annoying things in life, all of which are things that annoy me!

I also like Junk by Julia Eccleshare and Melvin Burgess. I read it as a teenager. It’s about drug abuse, and it gave me empathy and compassion for people who misuse drugs and an insight into why they might do so. It helped me as a young adult to open my eyes and my mindset.

Which song has impacted me the most?

Holding On To You by Twenty One Pilots. It came out about a decade ago when I was just starting university, and I felt lost. That’s what the song is about. It’s a safe song for me. I wanted to get its lyrics “entertain my faith” tattooed at one point.