MENTAL HEALTH // The Professionals, Round 1

For the second in my series of mental health interviews I'm bringing a totally different perspective as we look at things through the eyes of someone who works in the field of mental health.  

The mental health system can seem so alien and complicated that it can be hard to get a handle on who does what, especially if you're looking on from the outside or trying to navigate it for the first time. I thought it would be good to hear straight from the horse's mouth, as it were, in terms of who these professionals are and what role they play in seeking to better someone's mental health.

With that said, here goes round 1:

Who are you and what do you do in the field of mental health?

I’m Craig* and I’m an Activities Coordinator in a psychiatric hospital. 

What does your job look like day-to-day? 

My job is based around low-level interaction using a rehabilitation model. I see my position as being one of the first steps on a long ladder to recovery. It’s up to me to get patients on the ward engaging with other people rather than lying in bed all day starting at the curtains. I encourage patient to patient interaction as well as interaction between patients and staff, which can help to break down barriers between them, foster informal conversations and make them feel more approachable at other times. I use simple activities to help develop this: cognitive games such as Scrabble, which get the brain working; reading newspapers, which connect us with the outside world and give conversation topics; and mindfulness activities such as colouring, painting and mosaic tiling, which help to focus the mind and provide distraction from whatever else might be going on.

How did you find yourself working in the field of mental health? What got you interested?

Good question! I’ve had a very varied career, but somewhere down the line I decided to train as a nurse. I originally intended to go into children’s nursing, but my interest was somehow caught by mental health nursing and I went on to study that instead.
After two years I decided to take a year out, during which I worked at – and loved - a kids’ residential school. I never did go back and finish my nursing studies, but I was still interested in the field of mental health and eventually ended up in the job I’m in now.

What do you find most difficult or frustrating about your job?

The changing population on the ward, as well as changes in people’s day-to-day mood and functioning, can make it challenging. There might be lots of engagement one day yet none the next, just because of individuals' situations and the changing environment.

What are the best bits? What keeps you doing the job you’re doing?

Seeing patients’ journeys from the start to discharge. I love building up relationships with people and watching them improve during their time here. (It can be horrible when they reappear and you see them back at the start again, but that’s only because I care and am rooting for their recovery.)

If you could make any change to our current mental health system, what would it be?

I would like to see more staff on the wards (which of course requires more money), as this would provide more therapeutic time for patients, freeing people up from the ties of paperwork to provide more one to one contact.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to share with those who are struggling today?

Don’t give up. It's that simple.
But it's also that hard. How do you "sort yourself out" or "pull your socks up" when everything feels completely hopeless? You can read about these things on paper, but unless you've been there yourself I don't think you can ever really understand just how hard it is to not give up. 
But you have to keep on going because, while we haven't given up on you, there's only so much the professionals can do if you've given up on yourself. 
Don't give up! 

I'd like to express my thanks for the time taken in chatting these questions over with me, for the encouraging words at the end there and, most importantly, for doing the work that you do. It's much appreciated!

If you have any burning questions you think I should ask future professionals, feel free to drop them in a wee comment below. 

* Names and identifying details have been altered to maintain privacy/confidentiality throughout. 


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