Social workers and you. Well, actually, just you.

Social workers aren’t there to help you, the caregiver of bi-polar parents. You are free to ask for help, but be warned, there’s a catch.

Catch-22 - Man in the cast in the hospital scene


Read this next part slowly: since you’re competent, and you’re capable of calling on your parent’s behalf, that means from the perspective of a social worker, you can manage your bi-polar relation. Ergo, social workers will close the dossier on you in order to work on someone else who doesn’t have anyone competent nearby to help them. Let me put it another way:  If you want to get social services for your bi-polar relation, never speak to social services. Instead, get your bi-polar relation to speak to social services.

Social workers are there to help the most incompetent and weak. That’s entirely correct. If a helpless person has no one to ask for help for them, that person can get help. However, if the bi-polar person has someone, they’re not helpless and are therefore not eligible for help. You’re not the patient, remember? And, I hate to admit it, I agree with the social workers. Our parents have ‘only’ bi-polar disorder. If the social worker has to choose between makin my life easier because I have a bi-polar mom, and trying to help a patient with suicidal ideation, I must get pushed to the back of the queue.

I understand.

Again, social workers are there to help the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. Fair enough. However, since you appear to be a reasonably functional family member, and are capable of pursuing long-term complex actions for the benefit of the aforementioned relative, the social worker will coo sympathetically into the handset while putting your documents into a shredder. Never under estimate the skill and practice they have at making it seem like they’re doing you the grandest of favours when they’re actually putting your parent’s file in the recycling wheely bin.

They’re at the Grand Master level of saying tough luck, you’re on your own while making it seem like they’re pals. Being a trusting soul, I fell for this a few times before catching on. It’s no accident. It is deliberate.

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’.

— Goldfinger, Ian Fleming, 1959.

That you, the caregiver, are trying to get help may be at wit’s end, be ulcerous, or be forced to quit your job, become alcoholic or something else because of bi-polar caregiving, may often be outside this or that social agency’s remit since you are not the patient. However, of you do have a nervous breakdown because of exhaustion related to being a caregiver,then you may be eligible for help.

Practical Advice:

  1. Talking to social services on behalf of your mentally ill geriatric parent is the kiss of death for assistance.
  2. If you cannot avoid talking to social workers, be focused on problems and not solutions.
  3. Have some sympathy: social workers cannot control their workdays
  4. Put it in writing.
  5. It’s only bi-polar disorder.

Let’s take those points in turn.

Firstly, always have your bi-polar parent ring social services. Make those sorts of calls their responsibility and be like HG Wells’ the Invisible Man. If you find yourself surprised by answering an unfamiliar number and find yourself on a call from a social agency on behalf of your parent, hang up. Find any excuse — tell them you’re walking into court because of a mandate to appear for pinching a policeman’s helmet or tell them you’re being deployed to Afghanistan but ring off without saying anything. The sanity detectors of social workers are very good. If they detect competence, they’ll close the dossier on your parent. If you’re trying to shake loose some program spending on behalf of your bi-polar parent, treat the social worker authorizing this approval like an enemy intelligence gatherer. Pretend you’re talking to a Nazi from a film. Say nothing.

In short, be like Major Major, the over-promoted laundry clerk from the afore-mentioned Catch 22.

The second point is, admittedly, obscure.

Normal people have what I will call a belief in their own powers of efficacy. You believe that somehow, you’ll muddle through no matter what life throws at you. So, when there’s a barrier, you focus on going over, around, underneath or through. This is why you’re capable of holding a job. People with no concept of self-efficiacy treat every single problem as being insurmountable. The universe ends at every complication. Talk like that when you’re speaking with a social worker on behalf of your bi-polar parent. It may convince them that you’re also a helpless bi-polar person and ergo help dislodge some program spending on your parent’s behalf.

This sort of Sir Humphrey thinking can be a bit of a brain twister but it’s similar to documenting technology research and development for government tax credits. In order to qualify, the industry ministry doesn’t want to see solutions, they want to see intractable problems.  Why?  Because if solutions are obvious, there’s no intellectual property being added to the nation so there’s no R&D. In other words, the development diary needs to do the opposite of what it normally does: you need to document the problem and demonstrate its complexity. If talking to social workers is unavoidable, focus on problems, not solutions.

  • Pro Tip: Keeping in mind that the latent assumption of this article is that you are trying to shake loose some program spending to benefit your bi-polar parent. If you must meet with the case worker, a great tip is to exercise. I am a great believer in running but what ever your sport is, exercise is very good for you and you should probably do more of it. In this particular context, if you must meet with the social worker, work out strenuously for the previous two days but don’t wash and wear an out of date suit from the Sally Ann with unpolished shoes.

Thirdly, if you must talk to case officers, don’t call before 9:30 AM. Ten is great. 11:30 AM is too late because they may be behind already and Heaven knows when they’ll eat. The latest you should call after lunch is 1:30 PM. People in social services are often dealing with doctors, lawyers, parole officers, pharmacists, judges, nurses, hospital administrators and an alphabet soup of other national, regional and local agencies all within the same hour. All of what I’ve written above may not make it seem as though I am sympathetic, but I am. Many of these people work very hard, with limited budgets and are not able to control their in-boxes.

I’ll say it again to be explicit: social workers have my respect and admiration and there’s not enough tea in Cathay to get me to do what they do for a living as it’s hard and critical work of great beneift. So, call early in the morning because by the end of the day they’re haywire.

Fourthly, put everything in writing. Take minutes, get copies of reports and then MAIL PAPER LETTERS confirming what was discussed and formulating your request.

In the grand scheme of things…

Again. I hate to say it but our parents have ‘only’ bi-polar disorder. If your parent is not suicidal. schizophrenic, violent, unfed, toxic on meds or otherwise in grand-mal mania, your parent is not acute. By definition the social worker must push your bi-polar parent to the back of the queue to service people who are suicidal, schizophrenic, violent et al.

We’ll have to suck it up.


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