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June 2024

Deaf Awareness Week Role Models


Today SignHealth celebrates their role model, Sarah Powell

Dr Sarah Powell Photo

Sarah’s Story

My name is Sarah Powell and I am a clinical psychologist.  Since I was a teenager, I have always been interested in mental health and the impact it has on people.  However, in ‘them days’ there was no deaf clinical psychologist.  This did not stop me, and I focused on gaining qualification and employment linking to mental health such as working in a residential school for deaf children with complex needs and challenging behaviour, working as an information worker in a disability organisation and working as a mental health support worker in a secure hospital for deaf people.  When I found out that deaf people were on the clinical psychologist course, I then worked as an assistant psychologist which helped me to get onto the course. I qualified from University of Liverpool in 2011 with a huge smile (a very proud moment for me and remains since)!

Working for SignHealth in Primary care for mental health – there is no typical working day, each day is so different!  For example, one day I could be focusing on therapy to various clients to help with their mental health.  I do this either travelling to their GP surgery (and avoiding traffic along the route!) or I can do this online which means client can do this at the comfort of their home.  Sometimes therapy is rewarding because you can see the positive change in their lives, in how their distress have been reduced and been able to make positive changes.  Sometimes the sessions are difficult as they process difficult and painful memories, but the clients know it is important to do to enable positive changes.  Another day could be focusing on supervision – I offer supervision to other therapists or staff to ensure they are supported, to discuss clinical work and improving their skills.  There is also the usual administrative work – letters to the GP or CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group who usually fund for psychological therapy) explaining why deaf people needs therapy in their native language and without BSL interpreters rather than referring them to mainstream service.  This is because many deaf people struggled within mainstream service and have either dropped out of therapy, not benefitted from it or even made their symptoms worse.  Also, within my working day, I do vlogs within social media to normalise mental health, in how it is important of self-care, and knowing what to do if they need therapy.

Within my role as a clinical lead of SignHealth, I oversee the psychological therapy service, from referral to discharge.  This means making sure the client is suitable for our service, getting funding, allocating therapist to see the client, using the correct therapy modality, ensuring therapy is effective for the client and client has completed therapy.  I also liaise with other services, both deaf organisations (to provide effective signposting) and mainstream service (to ensure best practice for deaf people) as there may be times when our service is not appropriate for them.  Risk linking to harming themselves or other people is also looked at which means liaising with social services, GP and other relevant organisations to ensure that clients are safe from harm.  Supervision is also looked at, to ensure that all our therapists have appropriate supervision to ensure that they are supported and to provide effective therapy. We also ensure that we are IAPT compliant which is very important in ensuring what we do are effective and follows NICE guidance linking to specific diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and so on.

Challenges is unfortunately part of my life; it has always been present!! The current challenges that I have are linked to funding – trying to make some CCG understand that deaf people need the option of deaf specialist service or mainstream rather than forcing deaf people to use mainstream service which is compounding their distress and mental health.  Also trying to increase understanding of mental health, spotting symptoms earlier, and asking for help sooner rather than later.  There is still a stigma around mental health, and I am keen to break down that stigma and for people to see that mental health is also equally important as physical health and to seek help/therapy sooner.  It is shocking to think that there were no services for deaf people at primary care level until 2011 – previously they would have to use mainstream service or use deaf specialist tertiary service.

However, it is also rewarding – we are the only IAPT compliant deaf specialist service, people are accessing therapy, their mental health have improved, increased awareness of mental health and wellbeing via social media, presentations at deaf clubs/organisations and people telling other people about therapy.  Seeing people at the start of therapy and end of therapy is so rewarding, their lives have changed for the better and having hope for the future.  It is great to see deaf people being more open about their mental health and sharing their stories and I hope this continues.

Deaf Awareness Week has been going on for several years now.  I would like to see long lasting changes such as more people learning sign language and using it more often, organisation being committed to improving access for deaf people and actually doing it and liaising with deaf people on how to make things more effective for deaf people.  DAW is useful to highlight what we are doing, to provide examples of effective practice, to show what other deaf professionals are doing and provide excellent role models.  I think this is important for younger deaf people see what other deaf people can do and to portray them in a positive light.

I have now worked for SignHealth for 8 years and during that time I have seen massive changes for the better.  Nowadays there are more deaf staff and more deaf people holding senior positions such as Christopher Reid and Rebecca Mansell.  I am proud to be part of SignHealth in changing awareness of mental health, to highlight barriers that deaf people are facing such as Sick of It report, Accessible Information Standards and the JCP document on mental health for deaf people in primary care.  There is more to do, and I am excited to be part of it.