Mental Health Guest Lecturer

Yesterday we had a guest lecturer in for one of our occupational therapy units. We had been told beforehand we were to be listening to a person with a disability talk to us, but not much more than that. When she walked into the lecture theatre however, I guessed mental health. And I was right.

Every mental health consumer, or ex-consumer as she calls herself, has a story to tell. She was no exception. She told us of her breakdown after having her child. She told us of the highs and lows she experienced. She told us of the delusions of grandiose. She recounted being scheduled numerous times. However, she is no longer a consumer of mental health services. She’s off medication and hasn’t been hospitalised in twenty years. Currently she works in mental health as an Official Visitor.

A prop she brought in with her was a ceramic mug and a plastic mug. “Why do you think I brought this in?” she asked. After some prompting, people got it and she demonstrated by dropping the plastic mug on the table. The plastic mug looked identical, bar colour, to the ones on the public ward I was in last year. Admittedly then I hadn’t really noticed or questioned the plastic. The plates in the ward were ceramic though and we used proper cutlery. Oh the ironies of a psych ward… She asked us what that said about how patients are viewed. “They’re treated like children,” were amongst the answers given. “Yep, got it!” she exclaimed.

I love it when there are people as cynical as me…then I don’t feel so bad for possessing such negative and cynical views of it all. “Mental health patients are a pain in the arse!” she exclaimed when talking about the at times poor treatment received from health care providers and the gaps in the system.

We were given the opportunity to ask questions after the 15 minutes she took to tell her story. The asking and answering of questions took us right up until the hour. I stuck my hand up and posed two questions to her. My first one was, “Were you always so open about your mental health issues and have you experienced discrimination and stigma when people find out?” Her answer was yes, she is just very open about it all and yes, there have been times when people have stepped back and been wary when she’s told them she has a mental illness. But she doesn’t care and it’s their loss if they don’t want to know her. That’s the sort of attitude I like and try to adopt, though not to the extent that she does and not in all situations. And it’s harder for me to disregard what others think of me. But I really admire when people are able to be open and not ashamed to admit they have a mental illness.

The other question I asked was whether it’s difficult to work in mental health, if at times it hits close to home. She answered no, not really, and she finds it quite therapeutic. I guess that’s one of my concerns as a student OT. Every time a mental health related issue comes up, it does hit close to home. And I identify too much with the client. It can be hard to switch hats and think “No wait, you’re not the client. You’re the student healthcare provider. Get the right hat on!”

7 thoughts on “Mental Health Guest Lecturer

  1. sounds like it was an interesting lecture, and hopefully opened some of your fellow students eyes to issues in mental health, and i really hope the questions asked avoided stereotypical/prejudiced questions. love the plastic vs ceramic cup demonstartion.
    I liked ur questions, ones that I’d consider asking too. and like you, I admire her openess. And also question my ability at being able to maintain client-professional boundaries. Tho hopefully we both will, and will go on to make fab OTs!

  2. Dear BtF,

    Your dilemma resonates with me. In my current unlicensed position, “direct care worker” in a group home, I have to play the “sane” “grown-up” using behavioral techniques to herd groups of mentally ill (and sometimes developmentally disabled) people through their day. A few of them have diagnoses similar to mine. A few of them are intelligent enough to realize that the structure surrounding them has been built more for the support of the understaffed caretaking organization than for their progress toward independent living. I’ve been feeling fragile lately, not helped by continuing financial problems and the grossly low pay and ongoing consequences of personal fuck-ups, and I have often felt like a fraud, playing the warden in a game of prison while knowing full well I’m better qualified to be an inmate. How do we make it through this? Please continue to share your experiences. It’ll help me figure it out. Thanks.

  3. I get that worry – I would love to work in some capacity in mental health, but I looked at doing a module on it as part of my social policy degree, and was advised not to by my CPN. I think she was right- I’m not well enough at the moment, even watching a film about mental illness has been known to set me “off on one”, as I call it. Still, at some point in the future, I want to work, and I would love to stand up for people who, like me, suffer from mental illness.
    I recently spent some time on a ward, and it hit me how lucky I am to be reasonably well educated and articulate, and that I have a form of bipolar that means that, even in the midst of a delusion or mania, I am usually able to express myself. In fact, looking back at my behaviour when manic can be quite embarrassing in this way (as in every way – bipolar is quite an embarrassing illness!) as I tend to start standing up against everything.

    Either way, I want to work in mental health – it would feel wrong to walk away, having experienced the service user end, without doing something to help. I’ll be no use to anyone if it makes me ill again. So…dillemma.

  4. Pingback: This Week In Mentalists – The Silent Reading Edition. « This Week in Mentalists

  5. Sounds like an interesting speaker! I would imagine it’s kind of hard to separate yourself like that. But I like how you think about it. Put the right hat on!!

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