Sally Elders is a Primary Care Mental Health Practitioner working in Sunderland.

Part of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), Sally has been in the role for six months.

She works from a GP surgery and holds weekly clinics across six different surgeries in the area, offering triage, assessments and intervention for people struggling with their mental health.

Part of her role is to ensure the service is made more accessible through GPs.

“I work to improve mental health support and reduce pressures on wider mental health services by catching those patients who may otherwise have fallen through the gaps,” she explained.

Sally did an undergraduate degree in psychology and criminology before training to become a social worker through the Think Ahead programme. The programme is an alternative route into mental health social work, combining a mental health degree with social work training.

Whilst training, Sally worked as a care coordinator for people with severe mental health difficulties.

“I never thought I’d be a social worker,” Sally admits. “I was always interested in mental health but didn’t know you could be a mental health social worker, I always thought it was just for children’s services. I came across the Think Ahead programme and knew it was for me.”

For Sally, the best part of the job is working with people. “We use a whole person approach and can see how far people have come,” she said. “Having people trust you and open up to you is a real privilege.”

There are some challenges when it comes to social work. Sally says hearing people’s experiences can be highly emotive. “It’s a balance of being emotionally invested without it being a detriment to your own wellbeing.”

Being able to help others in her work is something very important to Sally. She recalled a time where she felt she really made a difference; “I worked with someone who was struggling with their mental health. They had such low confidence and were feeling very alone. After helping them, they’re now feeling really proactive and are pursuing a career in childcare. It’s a real privilege to help someone from the beginning of their journey.”

To be a social worker, Sally says you need to have empathy and take a non-judgemental approach. Her advice for anyone thinking of a career in social work is to go for it. “It’s not easy but it’s immensely rewarding,” she said. “You need to be able to advocate for your own needs as well as for those of your clients, and I think CNTW is really good for encouraging staff to think of their own wellbeing.”

Sally admits she worried that joining the NHS and coming into a role where social worker wasn’t part of her job title, she would lose her identity as a social worker; this hasn’t been the case. “I think CNTW is really recognising the value of social work and recently appointing a principal social worker is a positive step towards developing social work across the Trust.”