Anyone who has ever worked in Mental Health will understand how challenging it can be sometimes to motivate those we care for. We all have our own standards of personal hygiene and routines for when we get up in the morning, when we shower, bath or wash, how often we wash our hair or like to shave. Our personal space is important to us as human beings and we each have the right to our own privacy.
If a person suffers from an enduring and severe Mental Illness such as Schizophrenia or other forms of regular Psychotic episodes, often this results in self-neglect, not just in their personal hygiene but also in the way they maintain their personal space.
When I started working in the Mental Health sector, way back in the 1970s, our patients were “well looked after”. We had routines of when people had baths - we had the “bath book” which had columns for “hair washed”, “nails cut” and “shaved”, to make sure that every patient on the ward was kept clean and well-groomed. Baths were done after breakfast and usually two at a time in a large bathroom with two baths and a row of basins.
Patients were turned out of their rooms first thing in the morning when the beds were stripped and made up with clean linen. Usually after that, the doors were locked and the patients were able to sit in the Day Area unless they went off to Occupational Therapy or Industrial Therapy, two departments in another part of the hospital. Anyone visiting the ward would see only clean rooms, tidy beds, and patients who were washed and dressed in clean, if ill-fitting clothes.
It’s not like that anymore, thank goodness.
For the past couple of years I have been working at Uplands, an Independent Mental Health Unit which caters for the rehabilitation of people with enduring Mental Health issues.
O.K., to an outsider perhaps, if you look into a resident’s room and see that it is untidy, with spilt coffee on the bedside table, the dregs of several roll-ups on the bed, the sheets awry and the mattress soiled, clothing and rubbish on the floor, you may think this is a sign of neglect. But it is only one moment in time, any one moment during the day of that resident . The task of the nurses and support workers is to assist and encourage the resident to have pride in their personal hygiene and their personal space. Their rooms are the only space that they can go to get away from others that is theirs alone. They have the key to their own door and they are not locked out of their rooms after cleaners have been in. Many of our residents have their own tea and coffee facilities in their rooms so that they are able to make themselves a hot drink whenever they wish rather than having to rely on a trolley in the dining room or a ‘beverage point’. Whilst this makes their lives more independent it needs to be monitored and often their rooms can be messy.
The work is demanding and challenging but the team is committed to improving the way it delivers the care for which we are employed. You may find yourself repeating the same tasks day after day, or even several times every day, with residents who need constant support and encouragement to be motivated in doing what to many of us, are simple daily living skills. Our job is to ensure that our residents receive the best possible care and that their lives are the best that they can be with the limitations that they experience.
I feel privileged to be working with the amazing team at Uplands, a group of hard-working, dedicated professionals who, in the face of adversity, have come together as a strong team. Over the past year I have attended training on First Aid, De-fibulator, 2 sessions of training on restraint and de-esculation techniques, Safeguarding, Aspergers, Recovery Star, and Mental Health Act. Over the next few weeks I am attending training on Fire extinguishers, Risk Management, Drug and Alcohol Awareness, Suicide Risk/Self Harm training. I know there is always room for improvement but after so many years of working in this field, I can honestly say that Uplands is one of the best places I have worked.