I met with Len Goff, an ex-service user who was employed by the Trust to run a group for patients who had been discharged – although it transpired that some had been attending for up to twelve years! The main purpose of the meeting was relational and confidence building, encouraging people back into community life.
Len was inspiring as he described the work the group does. When people began to arrive I was introduced to the members of the group and it was explained that the group would split, half would attend an assertiveness course and the other half would go to a local cafe for chat and fellowship.
I found this really interesting because here I was seeing those who had been in inpatient units but had recovered to the point that they could return home and thrive with the support of the group. It was very hopeful after seeing some people who were so desperately ill and seemed unlikely to return to community life. The group showed that recovery to that extent was indeed possible.
The mixture of social interaction and life skills seemed to be a really good marriage which helped the members a lot. I think it was a testament to the program that people did not want to leave and had created a strong support network for themselves.
It was also nice to see because it was not at all morbid. They chatted about recovery, but also about life in general and these people seemed a million miles away from the catatonic inpatients. It was a really good way to end the placement and to see the kind of support that obviously really helps those who have been inpatients get back to life and into community. I really was singing God’s praises for the work of people like Len who are making a real difference to people’s lives and showing the love of Jesus.
I began by meeting Josie at the QE2 in Welwyn. We chatted to Dawn, who we had met the previous week and she didn’t seem as ‘well’ as she had done the previous week. I then attended my last supervision meeting with Verity. I was pleased and privileged that she praised me so much and I was pleased to be able to have my concerns about Pauline very well received.
I then accompanied Karen to Sovereign House, the open unit and we chatted again to the staff, but the patients were drawn and very reluctant to talk. Karen was introduced quite formally which could have been part of the issue.
I returned to Seward Lodge to meet with Pauline on Thursday and I found the dementia ward very difficult again. I think the reason I find that so hard is because there is no hope – it is just loss after loss until death.
Afterwards I ended the day at the office and had a de-brief with Edward and he expressed his pleasure at how the placement had gone which really boosted my confidence.
I then had time to do quite a bit of reading on some of the conditions I had seen that I was not as familiar with at the beginning of the placement.
Today (Friday) I met with Edward to give an inpatient home communion which I found a very touching and poignant experience. I felt honoured to watch and be a part of the sacrament.
I then headed to view a monthly service in a psycho-geriatric unit, but unfortunately I’d missed the service because they had changed the day and it had actually taken place on Wednesday!
For the remainder of the day I read up on dementia and the effect this has on suffers and carers, and also how it is dealt with in faith communities.
On Monday I approached the week with more apprehension – but also more confidence, something that I knew was completely God-given. I was also blessed with a beautiful peace.
During the morning I carried out some administrative duties and reading before accompanying Verity to the Welwyn Ward where she delivered a talk to the staff about spiritual care and its importance – during which she reinforced the fact that at the heart of spiritual care is compassion.
That afternoon, I visited the Shroddell’s unit again. Along with Linda, I had a really fruitful conversation who had been admitted the previous Thursday after dissociating and self-harming on the street. She had eventually had to be brought into hospital by the police. Abused as a child, she had been in a dissociative state during the incident and did not remember anything. She was suffering with, and being treated for personality disorder. Linda knew her from her work at the Shroddell’s and we were able to pray with her. As we did so, I felt a clear prompting to sing the Lex Buckley song ‘Heaven Rejoices’ over the lady and I asked her if she would mind. It was very special that she allowed me to do so and was so visibly touched.
I was also delighted when, during a conversation about spirituality and young people suffering with mental illness, Verity said ‘It’s a shame you are going into Baptist Ministry because you’d make a great mental health chaplain’.
After the visit, I was interested to read about personality disorders and felt I gained a further insight into the woman’s condition.
Today I began by meeting with Pauline, a service-user suffering from bipolar disorder, who was a pastoral volunteer (the same role as Josie). As we were chatting before we went on the ward, I did struggled with the fact that she was as nervous as I was!
We first went to the day unit and chatted with a lady who had apparently been quite nervous and apprehensive the previous week and thought herself to be a dunce.
The most difficult part of the day was going to the dementia ward where I became engaged in conversation with a lady who was suffering from quite a severe form of dementia. She did not seem to know where she was or why she was here. She also used the names of her husband and son interchangeably. I decided in the conversation that the best way to answer her most pressing question as to whether this was her house by saying that the house wasn’t hers but she did have a room here. I came away from the meeting quite tearful because it was distressing to watch some lose themselves so completely.
That afternoon I went to another mental health unit for the elderly. I was greeted by Jo, the occupational therapist – the vicar I was meant to be meeting was late due to being held up that mornings’ holiday club meeting! As a christian herself it was interesting to chat to her about the role of the church for those living with mental illness and their carers.
When Erica arrived, it was interesting to get the perspective of a member of the clergy. She noted that for sufferers, the clergy represent a concrete system. This, I felt on a similar level because I felt more at ease visiting the wards alongside the clergy as had been the case when I was with her and the chaplain, Edward.
Having never really considered dementia as a mental illness, it was ‘good’ to see it first hand and to learn more about the condition.
I also learnt an important distinction between organic and functional mental illness. The former are conditions such as dementia and bipolar, whereas the latter refer to conditions such as anxiety and depression et al.
Today I travelled first to Welwyn Garden City hospital to meet Josie, a pastoral volunteer. After some initial confusion, we found one another and headed up to the ward. Josie was quite apprehensive because the previous week she had witnessed a patient attempt to escape and have to be wrestled to the ground.
The ward was single sex – the first I had been to and it was an acute unit where the patients generally had three or more mental health conditions. The first lady we spoke to was very anxious to be going home, but unfortunately it seemed that discharge was quite a way off for her.
Most of the patients were quite unresponsive and in catatonic states which was difficult to see – particularly because I am only too familiar with that almost trance-like state. Another lady joined us and she was possibly one of the ‘wellest’. Both women spoke of their faith and of how it hard to get across to the chapel.
It also transpired that the pay-phone had been locked away because someone had hung themselves with the cord and died the previous week. I found this really shocking and upsetting, but I felt privileged to witness Josie bring comfort.
Unfortunately, some crossed wires meant that I was late for supervision with Verity, but I was encouraged to be more relaxed about being late because units do just continue until you arrived – a thought that I really appreciated because I panic a lot about punctuality. She was also very comforting about if I felt panicky again to take a bit of a break and let them know. I felt blessed to be surrounded by people who wanted to support me and help me in my experience of working with the mentally ill.
That afternoon I accompanied Karen, a lady employed to carry out a project on how music can have a positive effect on mental health – particularly the elderly and those suffering from dementia. The unit we were visiting was an open unit and it just so happened that all the residents were out! Despite this, we were able to have really good conversations with the staff about the role of spiritual care and the positive effect it can have on patients.
After such an exhausting few days, I was glad to finish a little early and meet with Hannah for a coffee and a catch up before a relaxing evening in.
After a rather harassed morning where I struggled to turn the shower on(!) I made it to St.Albans for the Spiritual Care Department’s first team meeting, followed by a team lunch. At the meeting, we discussed End of Life Care, anticipatory loss and spoke about several upcoming events such as a training day for clergy and the production of three new leaflets to advertise and recruit volunteers for the department, which is still in its’ infancy having only been set up 20 months ago. I also got the opportunity to talk about my dreams and plans for placement, mental health at LST – and beyond! It was exciting to be encouraged by the professionals and given ideas (a focus firstly on depression and anxiety for example.) We then held a reflection on anticipatory loss, exploring the issues that surround it and the pain it causes. This was particularly useful in terms of dementia patients and their families because they do face loss after loss, and in the face of a diagnosis may particularly struggle with the concept that they will face nothing but loss- until the ultimate loss when the disease claims the patient’s life. It was a reflection that I found particularly useful on the dementia wards later in the week.
That afternoon I was to spend three hours working with Linda at the Shroddell’s unit at Watford General. I found this incredibly difficult, I had another chat with Gemma, the girl who I had spoken to the day before and I was struck afresh by the fear that I could have been in the same place but for the grace of God. We then went to chat to a lady called Pam in her room. The talk itself was not distressing – it was quite an academic talk about her use of different spiritual practices together. However, the incredibly close heat in her room, exhaustion and earlier painful realisations too much and suffered from quite a severe panic attack. Because of this I had to leave early, because obviously the unit and Linda’s presence on the unit is to care for the patients – not the helpers!
After I failed to get through to Mum, I rang Simon and he talked to me as I walked to my car, calming me and telling me funny stories as always. I then spoke to my wonderful Mum and headed off to have a cup of tea and a cuddle with Kelly. In doing those things I was reminded how far I have come that I know the things to do and put in place to ease the panic and recover. By dealing with it, I felt how far I had come and I was and am so thankful to God for getting me thus far. It again reinforced that I am doing this work in God’s strength because I do not have the strength alone. It also reminded me that I need to keep throwing myself at God’s feet in prayer.
On arrival, myself and Verity met for midday prayer which the spiritual care department take part in daily. After this we chatted together about what the placement would entail ,what I hoped to get out of it and where I saw myself going vocationally in the future after LST.
We then departed to Gainsford House, a slow rehabilitation unit which cares for patients with enduring mental health difficulties, generally for up to five years but sometimes longer. Verity presented the staff with a ‘Spiritual Box’ containing a variety of sacred texts and resources for lots of different kinds of spirituality from a book of Buddhist meditations to a collection of prayers for those who follow the Jewish faith. Using the box as a guide for the talk, she spoke about how spiritual care is often integral to recovery. The staff seemed quite receptive and one lady was outraged that only the Psalms and New Testament were included in the box – the reason for this (aside from space issues) is because some of the violent images in the Old Testament can be unhelpful for those suffering with psychosis et cetera. Although I only glimpsed a few patients, I found it quite distressing to see how very unwell they were. After this I travelled to the Shroddells Unit to meet Linda Nicholls, a former LST pupil who works as a volunteer lay chaplain and is a Community Psychiatric Nurse by trade.
I got lost on the way and struggled to park which stressed me out quite a bit and I was very apprehensive about going onto the unit, particularly considering my own history with the Whipps Cross psychiatric unit.
Once on the unit, I helped out at the craft group Linda runs. This terms’ project has been a wall hanging depicting the verse that God created the waters. I found this quite hard because one of the patients about my age and I was scared by the familiar thought ‘This could have been me’. Once the session ended I was utterly exhausted but pleased with how the day had gone.
I enjoyed relaxing with friends over for dinner that evening and relished the flat feeling like my own as I am flat-sitting for Simon and Suzy Bower for the fortnight.