Lekesha Livingston

SJ: Tell us about your position at Ascension Hospital.

LL: I am a social worker in the Emergency Department (ED) at the Franklin Campus. The ED is like a catch all. Basically, when people come to the ED I work with our medical providers and nurses to address various mental health and social needs. I perform a variety of jobs including, doing consults, behavioral assessments, needs assessments, safety assessments and brief interventions. I also help connect people with community resources and programs. I help people who are in crisis and meet them where they are.

SJ: How has COVID-19 impacted your job in the last year?

LL: I think COVID-19 exposed a number of problems and disparities that already existed in health care. It was no longer possible to ignore. There was no way to ignore the problems because everything became bigger. I believe the pandemic made more people aware of services, resources and the consistent lack thereof in their community. People were tired of not being seen or heard. Then more health information was available on TV and in the media, which enabled individuals to advocate for themselves. Thankfully, people have been more vocal and have been asking more questions, which they weren’t doing as much before.

SJ: What were some common mental health problems that you noticed increased in the past year?

LL: Isolation experienced by the elderly and with older people and school age children and teens contributed to higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal cases. We saw this a lot in the last year. People not being able to socialize or spend time with family really impacted these populations.

SJ: What drew you to the mental health field as a career?

LL: It’s a privilege advocating for others because I knew what it felt like to be silenced. I got into social work because I didn’t like public speaking which meant I couldn’t be a lawyer, so social work was the next best thing. Being a social worker is not for the faint of heart. It’s a lifestyle, and I, at times, struggle with explaining why you would want to be a social worker because you’d think I was saying run the other way. I started my career in CPS and it taught me a lot. From that field and many others, I learned that although many are not happy to see us come, they don’t want to see us go. We are often not recognized or valued, but our victory comes from the clients we impact and support. We help them find their voices.

SJ: What is your favorite part of your job at Ascension?

LL: It’s always different. I get to use a lot of different skills that I’ve learned in school and from my previous jobs. It is rewarding to help people and serve my community. I like the range of people that I get to work with, especially the younger people and the older people, but I especially enjoy the youth and older adults. The job forces me to think critically and problem solve in the moment. Being a social worker in the emergency room can also be overwhelming.

SJ: Burnout is very common in health care in general and mental health specifically. How do you take care of your own mental health?

LL: I’ve learned to decompress. I recognize when I need to take a step back. I take time off. I have a supportive family and can process things with my husband. Sometimes I just need a mental health day and I’ve gotten better at doing that.

SJ: If people in the Ascension system want to get a therapist within that system, what do they need to do?

LL: They can contact their primary care doctor and ask them to put in a referral. They also have the option to contact our Outpatient Behavioral Health- New patient intake department at (414) 874-4560, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.