The occupational therapy department at St Giles Hospital reminds us to remember the disabilities people experience following a mental illness.
Occupational therapy is a health care profession aimed at assisting people to resume a healthy and happy life following an injury or illness. At St Giles Hospital, the rehabilitation team works towards supporting people to recover from mental illness.
Mental illness can affect people in different ways depending on the type of illness and its severity.
Most people will recover after an illness, but it can take some months.
Needing to adjust to medication side-effects like drowsiness, nausea, etc., some people will experience ongoing difficulties such as reduced concentration, slowed thinking, difficulty expressing themselves verbally, difficulty organizing themselves and daily tasks, or experience low motivation.
Some people might continue to hear voices or have strange ideas. These things are of no fault of the person — in fact learning to live with these limitations takes strength and courage and this needs to be recognised.
If we can help people to manage these symptoms they can get on in their life despite them.
Life is full of ups and downs and illnesses especially remind us of this.
Working towards recovery from an illness is an important process for people.
The recovery journey is different for each individual, but common to all is a process of development and change and regaining of a sense of self and health.
Unfortunately, with mental illness there is a stigma attached.
This stigma means that people identify the person by their illness and forget that they are a person first.
The recovery journey becomes particularly important and is about regaining the aspects of life that we value the most and about gaining back our identity as a person.
Rehabilitation is one aspect of working towards recovery after mental illness.
It usually starts in the hospital and needs to be continued into the home and community.
This is when the person, health professionals, and carers work together to learn how to manage the illness so that the person can get on with their life.
The recovery from an episode of mental illness can be a journey, but it is all the more effective if there are others to 'keep on walking' alongside us.
Sometimes after serious mental illnesses, the person's ability to do things has changed and they and their family members may have feelings of sadness about this loss.
Others can help by talking about these issues, lending an ear, and providing support when people are trying to adapt their lifestyle.
Sometimes our expectations of our life or others expectations will need to be changed — sometimes appreciating our differences and the small things in life are often the most rewarding.
Some tips on assisting someone with a disability related to mental illness in daily activities:
nIf the person has difficulty expressing themselves verbally, try using pictures or actions to convey messages between people - and allow extra time for the person to think and respond
nNever laugh or ridicule a person for what they can't do - instead help them to identify their strengths and to make the most of potentials
nWorking alongside somebody is often the best way for a person to learn a skill again or if the person has difficulty with motivation - it can help if they have a co-worker
nAvoid trying to do everything for the person - ask them if they need assistance and allow time for people to practice skills themselves
nBe aware of the tone of your voice - speak clearly and gently, and try to stay calm - sometimes learning new things can be frustrating, but anger will only harm the person and make it more difficult to learn.
nGentle encouragement to keep trying is important as its hard work learning new ways of doing things.
nIf you see someone who is doing something that puts them at risk, don't stand back-help them or contact someone who can help
nOffer carers support, help them to find ways to take a break in their day. Just talking about their day can lift the load on a person's shoulders. We have to look after carer's mental health too.
nDon't forget that we are people first and the illness comes second.
*For further information: Contact the Occupational Therapy Department at St Giles Hospital on 3381399.
The article is an initiative of the College of Medicine
Nursing and Health Sciences
Fiji National University
in celebration of Mental Health month.