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The right support makes all the difference to recovery

When you read a compliment from a customer that says – “It is not just what Kimberley has done, it is the way she has conducted herself that has touched me deeply” – then you know it’s been an extraordinary experience.

Youth Support Worker Steve Coleman suffered high burnout over a protracted period when working in the youth sector dealing with complex, trauma-based behaviours in young people. He was fortunate to have WorkCover Queensland Customer Advisor Kimberley Russell guide him in his recovery journey.

Steve Coleman: I always wanted to do youth work, give a little bit back to society. I started off doing a few buddy shifts as a support worker. I enjoyed it initially.

However, it got to a point where I thought the standards of care weren’t good enough. I identified this, talked to management, et cetera, got a lot of negative feedback. I was asked to do certain things that were bang out of order.

Eventually, it ended up with me having a breakdown. I had time off. I thought I’d be away for a couple of weeks, but things got worse and my mental state, I’m not ashamed to admit it, went downhill. I felt like I was useless at the time.

People said to me, “You need to get onto WorkCover. Go and see your GP.” Initially, I was, “No, I’m not doing that.” I think a lot of people say the same thing. I did it. And I interacted with Kimberly. It was what she did and how she did it that made that difference for me.

She always had time to listen, and it’s so important. She worked collaboratively with other people for my best interests, to get me back to work but also, to get me back to work in the right fashion, not just ticking something off, you’re off our books now, to make sure that I could function and to make sure that I could be the best that I can be. We were looking at different goals, different objectives.

I did a Diploma in Community Services, which Kimberly fully supported. Fortunately, I’m back at work now. I’ve got a full-time permanent contract, which in this industry is pretty rare. I’ve been studying again since and I’m literally half a module away from finishing my Cert IV Mental Health.

And from there, I’m going to go and do an Advanced Diploma in Disability Management, I think. I’m enjoying the new people I work with. I’ve got a great relationship with management.

For all this interaction, I had a hundred percent support, and that’s what made the difference. Without that, I don’t know where I’d be because I was absolutely desperate at the time. And it’s not like a plaster cast on a broken arm or, you know, or a collar if you’ve got whiplash.

Because of the emotional nature of things, people can’t see it, so people dismiss it quite easily. She didn’t. Now, I’m in the best headspace I’ve been in probably two decades.

I’ve been that happy with my results through WorkCover, anybody – and I mean anybody, whether you’re a brickie or a doorman or a youth worker, if you’re having a hard time, don’t feel guilty about it.

They’re there to support and help you. They’re not there to judge you. I’ve had nothing but a hundred percent support. All I’ve got to do is thank them for it.

[End of transcript]

Steve felt totally drained, both physically and mentally and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Steve, 58, said he felt useless, and recovery was a slow process for him as he sought professional help for anxiety and depression from several avenues, including counselling support, meditation, and a psychiatrist.

“I was devastated at the time and felt totally drained, both physically and mentally,” Steven said. His confidence was at an all-time low.

Kimberley recalls that it was important for him to be mentally and emotionally stable so he could look after the troubled youths in his role.

“We had a discussion with an occupational therapist, his GP, his psychologist, and decided it was best that we rehabilitate him mentally – his mental health comes first – before we even consider returning him to work.

“Steve was very proactive during his time off. He loves his career, his job and what he does. He used this time to upskill himself, did some training modules, and worked with a peer who was supportive of him.

He achieved a Diploma of Community Services and went on to find a new and incredibly rewarding role.

“He’s in heaven – he’s still doing the same kind of job, but in an environment that’s better suited to him, and is utilising his upgraded skills. He’s been promoted already to team leader after just a couple of months,” said Kimberley.

What did Kimberley do that touched Steve so deeply?

“Sometimes people need to be heard and need some space. That’s what I identified with Steve,” she said.

Sensing he was traumatised, wasn’t coping, and finding lots of things exasperating, Kimberley adapted her approach to better meet Steven’s needs. Putting herself in his shoes, she listened, showed empathy and acknowledged what he was going through.

When reflecting on Steve’s claim, Kimberley had this to share:

“I felt I’ve contributed to him so much and made his journey so much easier.

“He’s good to talk to, he’s very upbeat, he’s easy to work with as a person. That made everything flow much easier and he was determined to be back at work. The relationship worked really well.

“My manner to him was warmth and support, rather than being hard and focused on return to work,” she said.

With our end goal being return to work, we focussed on his mental health and recovery first and foremost.

Steve looks back on his experience while recovering and says: “Kimberley placed a human footprint on a faceless encounter. Although we had never met [until we brought them together for this story], she has helped me totally change my life.

“Without that total support I cannot comment on where I would be now. I like to think I'm not your average "Joe" and have lived a demanding life both physically and mentally which may leave scars on anyone.

“Every time we spoke Kimberley engaged, empathised and worked tirelessly towards a positive outcome. At no point did I lose confidence in her ability to aid me on my journey,” Steve said.

“It is not just what Kimberley has done, it is the way she has conducted herself that has touched me deeply.”

This collaboration, teamwork and support enabled and empowered Steve to realise his goals. Kimberley is delighted knowing that she supported Steven in his recovery as he achieved these goals.

We are grateful to Steve for sharing his story, and we are delighted to have brought Steve together with Kimberley to meet face to face.