Social workers in hospitals settings help support psychosocial wellbeing for patients and staff. Within the hospital, a medical social worker is an important member of the multidisciplinary team of health professionals, which can include medical doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, laboratory sciences, medico-legal services, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, etc. By addressing the interrelationships of physical, emotional and social factors that are present in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of patients in the hospital, medical social workers play a major role in a patient’s care. They are also key to effective discharge planning for patients by ensuring an adequate and conducive environment after leaving the hospital. Their support is especially critical when working with patients with mental health issues.
Family support groups as a means toward improved mental health outcomes
One specific aspect of care that medical social workers coordinate at the University College Hospital in the city of Ibadan is family support groups for patients with mental illness. As the first family support for patients with mental illness in Nigeria, the groups have been in existence since 2014 through generous donations from individuals and medical doctors at the hospital. The purpose of the group is to promote mental health among the patients and their family members, educate on mental health issues with the general public, reduce the rate of relapse, and serve as advocates for the rights of persons with mental illness in the country. The medical social workers also help to navigate the diversity of culture, traditions and beliefs surrounding stigmatisation for mental health illness and mental health services.
The family support group currently has a total of 671 members, largely comprised of previously admitted patients from different regions, communities and states in Nigeria. Medical social workers facilitate the weekly group meetings, giving lectures on specific topics and conducting modules on mental health issues. Oftentimes, individual therapy sessions are organised to address specific health and well-being concerns. The social worker often provides relapse prevention services by linking individuals with existing mental health facilities in his/her community or providing medication subsidies. The support group also participates annually in World Mental Health Day on October 10 with a phone-in programme, road walks and distribution of educational information to the general public in the city of Ibadan. The advocacy efforts have created great momentum in Ibadan and other parts of Nigeria, resulting in several other hospitals in other regions replicating the programme through the technical support of medical social workers from the University College Hospital.
About Medical Social Work
In Nigeria, Medical Social Services started at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, in 1957, with only five Nigerian medical social workers providing psychosocial services in collaboration with an Irish trained social worker. Today, that number has grown to more than 2,500 medical social workers practicing in all 36 states plus the federal capital territory in Nigeria. They all hold both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work and are registered members of the Association of the Medical Social Workers of Nigeria (AMSWON). Their work includes:
- To collaborate with other professionals to evaluate patients’ medical or physical condition and to assess clinical needs
- They advocate for clients or patients to resolve crisis.
- They refer patients or family to community resources to assist in recovery from mental or physical illness and to provide access to services such as financial assistance, legal, housing, job placement or education.
- They investigate child abuses or neglect cases and take authorized protective action when necessary.
- They counsel patients in individual and group sessions to help them overcome dependencies, recover from illness and adjust to life.
- They plan discharge from care facility to home or other care facility.
- They monitor, evaluate and record patient’s progress according to measurable goals described in treatment and care plan.
- Identify environmental impediment to patient progress through interviews and review of patient records
- Organise support groups or counsel family members to assist them in understanding, dealing with and supporting the patient.
About the Author
Oluwagbemiga Oyinlola provides clinical social services, research and training in his capacity as a registered Senior Medical Social Worker at University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria. He popularised the use of community-based mobile courts for the prevention of domestic violence in the rural areas of Ekiti State. He was also involved in the development of the Ekiti State Gender-Based Violence Prohibition Bill of 2011. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Community Development and a master’s degree in Social Work. He was a 2018 commonwealth fellow at the University of Southampton, UK. He is currently the steering chair of Social Work Technology in Africa, an NGO with more than 300 members from eight African countries. He is also currently the Assistant General Secretary of the Association of Medical Social Workers of Nigeria.