For clients of the HSA’s Mental Health Unit, the road to recovery can be slow and frustrating.
But a vocation skills program at the unit is now helping patients find their feet, and in some instances, the skills and confidence to return to the workforce.
Ken Figueira, occupational therapist with the Mental Health Unit, says the program is helping some clients return to work. For others it is allowing them to better manage the stresses they have in their lives, helping them better re-integrate into the community.
‘We look at the lifestyles of our different clients; at what the stresses in their lives are,’ he explains. ‘Together with the client, we set the direction they want to go. We do training that ranges from talk therapy to hands on activity.’
An important part of the occupational therapy clients receive at the Mental Health Unit is learning soft skills; those interpersonal and personal qualities – responsibility, self-esteem and friendliness, for example – that complement the technical skills required of different jobs.
Mr. Figueira helps patients with their resumes, counsels them on how they should interact in job interviews, how they should dress and how they should interact with colleagues.
Key to the approach of Mr. Figueira and his colleagues at the Mental Health Unit is a recognition that employment can be a means of improving mental health, as well as an end in itself.
‘Inherent with working is the status that comes with it and also the ability and need to be continually communicating with people. That helps a whole lot,’ he explains.
While Mr. Figueira is seeing promising results with clients, it continues to be a challenge to change old attitudes among some employers.
Phil Slater, the unit’s nurse manager, explains that mental health issues remain stigmatized in the community. That is despite evidence that one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
‘It’s a challenge for employers, we recognize that,’ says Mr. Slater. ‘But we do need people in the community to be receptive.’
While providing vocational opportunities for clients is an important part of rehabilitation, so too is ensuring they have life-skills that give them greater independence and functionality, Mr. Slater explains.
‘It is things like finding accommodation; some of them need accommodation, but they don’t know how to ask when they ring up,’ he says. ‘It’s ensuring they can handle all the day to day skills, like gardening, washing their clothes, doing the dishes.’
Going forward, Mr. Figueira would like to establish a sheltered workshop at the unit that would allow clients to acquire more skills and vocational experience in a supportive environment.
One idea is to teach clients landscaping skills with a view to giving them responsibility for some landscaping duties at the Cayman Islands Hospital. This could in time allow clients to take advantage of the demand that exists in the private sector for landscapers.
It would be just the latest development for a unit that has expanded and evolved considerably in Mr. Slater’s 15 years on the job.
‘When I joined in 1994 there were no in-patient facilities, just a couple of community nurse, a psychiatrist and a community social worker.
‘Now we have specialist psychologists including child psychologists; two psychiatrists; specialist mental health nurses; community nurses; a 24-hour in-patient facility, an out-patient facility and a day patient facility.
‘Of course, the teaching of these life skills and vocational skills is just one small part of the wide range of therapeutic and clinical interventions the unit offers,’ says Mr. Slater.
‘I’m really happy to say we’ve come a long way.’
Mr. Figueira concurs: ‘If people do well, I do well; that’s my reward.’