06:20, June 24 74 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-24 06:20:09
My working week  'It's hard to help a refugee with PTSD who is 112th in line for a council flat'

Monday

My role as a refugee and support integration officer is incredibly varied and each day is different.

Today, I see a woman who has no income. She lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the anxiety and tiredness from sleepless nights means that she hasn’t been able to see me to apply for universal credit. I worry about what she will eat, and I apply for an emergency payment from the local council. We finally apply for universal credit, but who knows how long it’ll be before she gets paid?

Tuesday

I oversee the reading exam for my English learners. I feel proud of everyone’s progress and growing confidence.

I spend an hour or two doing a mock interview with a woman who has an interview for a domestic assistant job at the NHS. She’s nervous and excited, reeling off well-memorised answers. I remind her to relax and be herself.

Wednesday

Today I work with partners from four European countries to create and implement a toolkit designed to capture the skills and competencies of refugees. The idea is that this will help people promote themselves to employers, as well as providing a meaningful action plan, supporting full integration into their new country of residence.

Thursday

We were planning to go on a walk with our residents, but it is cold, drizzling and windy. Instead we go bowling at a small hipster venue in town. Four men from Eritrea and Sudan have their first ever game of bowling. They are much better than me, even if they do adopt some unusual bowling techniques.

Back at the office, I hear that a resident from Sri Lanka has finally had a positive decision on her family reunion application. Her teenage son can join her after many years apart. This separation has been devastating, causing a massive amount of stress and anxiety. I feel so glad for her.

Friday

I go to the GP with a shy woman who has been thinking about killing herself. Tortured and badly traumatised in her home country, she feels that there’s no reason for living. She has been passed from one therapist to another and is sick of being asked about the voices in her head and her plans for suicide. All she wants is to be out of a shared house, into a home of her own where she can feel safe. I want to support her, but housing is so short in Bristol and she’s still 112th in the queue for a council flat. I feel helpless but am uplifted by the way the GP spoke words of hope and gave her concrete goals to reach for.

The waiting list for people with PTSD to receive therapy is painfully long. After taking the big step of asking for help, people can face a wait of a year or more before receiving formal therapy. PTSD symptoms vary for everyone, from flashbacks to avoidance, insomnia to angry outbursts, anxiety to depression. It can be a huge barrier to integration in terms of employment, education, and social inclusion.

Later I meet a man from Iraq. I want to run out of the room and scream and cry as I’m told that his brothers were kidnapped by Isis, his father shot in front of him, and that he now spends his days at home playing fighting games on his phone. He feels unable to do anything else. I feel so useless as I feebly suggest he comes to the allotment with me to do some gardening.

After a long day I jump on my bike and make my way home, head swirling with thoughts of the remarkable people who filled my week.

Naomi Gill works at ACH in Bristol

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com

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