Host employment revives self-confidence after harrowing ordeal

Melissa Laing’s world was turned upside down when she found herself in the middle of an armed robbery in her job as a console operator at a Willowbank service station west of Ipswich.

In May 2012, Melissa was at work with her 14-year-old daughter when she was held hostage at knife point by an armed robber who she later witnessed fleeing the scene after pulling a customer from their car and speeding off.

Having previously worked for 10 years in administration and hospitality with Queensland Rail, Melissa, a single mother of three children, had relocated and taken the console operator job with flexible hours so that she could more easily manage her family commitments.

After the armed robbery, Melissa hit rock bottom overwhelmed by a roller coaster of emotions, trauma and severe anxiety about her capacity to embrace future employment prospects.

Small steps towards psychological rehabilitation

Melissa was determined to carry on with life and try to just keep going as normal, despite the traumatic incident she had been through.

“I tried to go back to work, but it did not work out,” Melissa said.

“I contacted WorkCover and a claim was accepted for both my daughter and me. Due to my sleeping patterns and mood changes, I was placed on medication and my daughter and I were then referred to a psychologist,” Melissa said.

Melissa was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the armed robbery.

“I still was unable to comprehend the emotions I was feeling of victimisation, failure, grief, fear, loss, financial stress and I began to self-medicate as my lack of sleep exacerbated these feelings,” Melissa said.

“My self-talk was ‘I could not possible be mentally ill. I am a survivor. I have hurt but I still get back up again. What is going on?’

“Eventually I accepted treatment from a psychiatrist who adjusted my medications (I finally got some sleep), and gave me a good stern talking to with regards to my self-medicating and the harm I was inflicting on myself,” Melissa said.

WorkCover Customer Advisor Jennie Dean said it took all parties working together to help Melissa start to move forward in her recovery and return to work.

“Our case conferencing with medical and return to work service providers was very helpful in finding solutions for Melissa,” Jennie said.

“Positive outcomes of these sessions included WorkCover’s support for Melissa to take a MYOB retraining course and a cognitive behavioural course at the Toowong Hospital.

“We also supported Melissa in her goal to feel comfortable returning to public places by setting her up with an exercise personal trainer, giving her motivation and confidence to leave her house. Exercise also had a positive effect on her psychological condition.”

“We had a bumpy road and tried many different types of therapies, including group therapy for anxiety. However, I did learn throughout these therapies that there was one common denominator: me,” Melissa said.

“I needed to accept my feelings about the event. It does not define me as a person and through two frustrating years of therapy and medications, I was able to regain my self-respect and a sense of purpose in my life.”

Learning new skills opens career doors

“After her treating psychologist recommended that Melissa return to work in a quiet and calm workplace, WorkCover was able to find host employment for her with Cabanda Care, an aged care facility in Rosewood,” Jennie said.

“I realised that it was time to move forward, and I was fortunate to obtain host employment through WorkCover Queensland’s Recover at Work program with Cabanda Care as a pathway to obtaining permanent employment,” Melissa said.

As part of her host employment arrangement, Melissa was allocated administrative duties at Cabanda Care. For Melissa, learning new skills in a caring and vibrant work environment gave her a new lease on life.

“After six weeks, I enjoyed working in this area so much that I chose to undertake further training in aged care and home and community care at Medical Administration Training (MAT).” In August 2014, Melissa completed a Certificate III in Aged and Community Care and was subsequently offered a casual position as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) with Cabanda Care.

“There is nothing more exhilarating than that first pay,” Melissa said.

Recovering at Work lifts self esteem

For Cabanda Care General Manager Liz Maloney, participating in WorkCover’s Recover at Work host employment program has injected a great deal of pride and camaraderie among the organisation’s existing employees.

“Returning to work after an injury is not always easy,” Liz said.

“Cabanda joined Recover at work to show that we could assist an injured worker to return to work in an environment that is comfortable, friendly and focused on what the worker could do, not what they couldn’t do.”

Having hosted a number of injured workers at Cabanda Care, Liz said she has noticed a marked improvement in their mental health and wellbeing.

“These workers gain confidence by attending a safe workplace that helps them to improve their self-esteem and mental wellbeing,” Liz said.

“Cabanda’s staff also find it a very positive experience and welcome having a new, enthusiastic colleague in their work area to assist them,” Liz said.

“When Melissa joined the team, it made our staff feel proud that they were helping others return to the workforce.”

Host employment injects new enthusiasm

Seven months into her new career with Cabanda Care, Melissa continues to speak highly of the organisation and the value it delivers as a Recover at Work program host employer.

Melissa has since undertaken further studies with a Certificate IV Leisure and Health through TAFE Queensland to become a diversional therapist. Cabanda Care have supported Melissa and given her the opportunity to work in the role of Diversional Therapy Assistant, as well as an Assistant Nurse.

“I love the diversity and support from management to pursue my career goals,” Melissa said.

“Cabanda’s commitment to the community with regards to host employment, training and their continuous care of the residents is humbling.

“I’d also like to thank Jennie Dean, my WorkCover Customer Advisor, who provided me with outstanding support, even in my darkest moments.

“Jennie never gave up and always offered alternatives to support me in my recovery,” Melissa said.

More information

Last updated
15 January 2019