“Social work is written in the book of Deuteronomy. It’s like I’m doing God’s work.”
Rebecca Cole is originally from Sealy, Texas, but has lived in Houston for the last four years. She received a Bachelors of Arts from Stephen F. Austin State University majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in Psychology. She then received a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Houston. She has worked for Child Protective Services for several years, and through that work is where she received her Master’s degree. Rebecca has worked at Memorial Herman as a Psychiatric Social Worker, and last year she started working with the Crisis Intervention Response Team with the Harris Center, where she rides with law enforcement to answer mental health crisis calls in the community.
The Harris Center, which is one of the only few teams in the United States that has this particular model in place, and it has been replicated by other municipalities within the United States as well. Rebecca expressed, “I am a Clinical Social Worker and there are also Licensed Professional Counselors and we work for the Harris Center, which is the local mental health and IDB authority for Harris County. We ride with a law enforcement officer who has already met certain criteria to be a crisis intervention officer….if it’s a mental health based call, what we try to do is to go assess the situation, and help reduce those type of persons who get funneled into the jail based on actions that are secondary to their mental health.” Rebecca and her colleagues are there to try and help individuals who need a psychiatric hospital instead of being taken to jail. They try to get people connected to mental health services in spite of the many reasons why they don’t have access to these service from the beginning. “It’s a collaboration between these two agencies to help with this one particular goal to address mental health in our neighborhoods and our societies,” Rebecca stated.
Stigma, misrepresentation, access, barriers to access, not enough funding, misdiagnosis, not having insurance to seek treatment, not having the available resources, not having transportation to treatment are just a few reasons why mental illness is not discussed as much as it should be, and why people aren’t receiving the help that they need. “The stigma that’s associated with mental health within the community just in general…across any socioeconomic population, the stigma of mental health and how it is portrayed in the media…you’re psychotic, you’re a psychopath you’re someone who kills someone, or someone who is not healthy in a very scary and unlikeable way,” expressed Rebecca. She made it known that not every one with a mental illness is looking to murder someone. It can be someone who suffers from anxiety or PTSD, or a bipolar disorder. Not everything associated with mental illness is extreme, but due to this stigma, it has made many individuals overlook the importance of being mentally well.
The hardest part of her job professionally is encountering stereotypes and stigma that keep people from accessing what they would need to help them live the most least restrictive life. It’s hard for Rebecca to see or learn of someone who needs help, but is not able to access it, or able to reach out to seek what could help change their life. “There are so many things that are out there like social injustices…and trying to find all of these other things to find this one person what everyone should have access to which is health care, freedom and autonomy,” Rebecca stressed.
This is not an easy job, and for Rebecca, she made it known that through her education and work, she has learned how not to get too involved with patients and how not to cross any boundaries. She has learned to debrief and to be self-aware. She also mentioned that she has a strong support system that she surrounds herself with, which is very important. “I have great supervisors and my co-workers are phenomenal too,” expressed Rebecca.
In spite of how hard and challenging her job may be at times, she feels that her job is still very rewarding. Rebecca is very proud of the work that she does as she illustrated, “Every day I get invited into people’s lives and I get to meet them and experience experiences I would never have access to in my life. It takes a lot for people to open up to a total stranger, and to have someone trust me enough to have that type of vulnerability is very special.”
By: Chelsea Davis-Bibbs