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.