Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, is an annual opportunity for the UK to come together and focus on mental health.
At Deck the Wards we understand that the week can sometimes prompt different opinions and responses amongst the people we work with directly, or alongside. We’d like to take a minute to explain what the initiative means to us and why ‘raising awareness’ still has an important place in our work.
Whilst the general awareness of mental illness and mental ill-health is thankfully getting better, we find that this does not always include the experiences of children and young people in psychiatric hospitals. We still hear from many who were unaware that children or young people might experience mental ill-health, or that it might be serious enough to require a hospital admission. This means that, in contrast with physical health hospitals, children and young people staying in psychiatric hospitals are still often forgotten about.
Even where child and adolescent psychiatric hospitals are discussed, the picture we see in the media and press can be stigmatising, sensationalist or inaccurate. The stories of what it’s really like to be in hospital are still not being told as often or as accurately as we would like.
On top of all that, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has come at a strange time: the middle of the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst we are all feeling the effects of uncertainty, boredom, isolation and concern, children and young people in hospital will be adapting to changes to their usual routines or protective measures such as limits to the time they can spend outside of the ward or suspended visits from family and loved ones. Although necessary to keep them safe, these measures may increase the loneliness, boredom, frustration and distress that can come with spending time on a psychiatric ward. Family members and staff have also felt the impact of these additional challenges.
This is where awareness still has a part to play. We will be spending the next week doing our part to share stories of what it is like to be staying in a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital during the outbreak: the good, the bad and the mundane. We will also be shining a light on how their families, loved ones and members of hospital staff are responding to these challenging circumstances.
The collective focus on kindness, the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, is also more important than ever.
Since the outbreak began we have seen the mental health community coming together to support one another in new ways; family members adapting to support their loved ones from afar and hospital staff working hard to keep children and young people safe. Key to all this is kindness. We therefore want to lend our support and admiration to the people we work with, and to shine a light on all those important acts of kindness.
A stay in psychiatric hospital can be scary and lonely, but it is our experience and belief that awareness and kindness can and does make a difficult time that little bit easier.
What we’ve been up to
Incredibly it’s been an entire year since we started Deck the Wards and what a year it has been. We started the charity last Christmas with the aim of helping one ward and with a target of £300. We ended up smashing our target and raising nearly £1500 and helping 4 wards.
We’ve held a bake sale with delicious homemade soup, sandwiches and cakes. We had an Easter Egg drive at the HCPC which supported us to deliver an Easter Egg to every single child and young person. King’s College London Women’s Rugby team chose us as their varsity charity and raised nearly £250 for us at Easter. Finally we held a charity quiz night in June which was attended by a whopping 90 people and raised around £1600 for us.
It’s fair to say it’s been a real journey and we’re grateful for everyone who has put in the time and effort to make all of this possible. Roll on 2019/2020!
Reflecting on our first year
To celebrate our first birthday we’ve asked each of our trustees three questions about their experiences over the year.
Firstly, what was your highlight of the first year with Deck the Wards?
Katie (Co-Founder and trustee): For me it has to be wrapping and packing the Christmas boxes and seeing just how much we’d been able to get for the wards. We were so grateful to have such successful fundraising and it enabled us to get everything each ward had asked for and to provide a special Christmas box with crackers, chocolate coins and a voucher for a Christmas party. Getting to see the results of everyone’s hard work and generosity was really special.
Jaz (Co-Founder and trustee): There’s a lot to choose from, but a particular memory from the Spring school holidays stands out.
We wanted to make sure that the Spring boxes were inclusive for every single child and young person so we put together boxes of vegan and gluten free chocolate (kindly donated by Ombar) notepads and craft items, baking equipment and more.
When we dropped these off at the wards the staff told us that these boxes would be inclusive for young people celebrating Easter who would want chocolate, young people receiving treatment for eating disorders who might not want to receive food at all and others who might not celebrate Easter for cultural or religious reasons. It felt great to know that everyone was included.
Hermione (Chair of trustees): Our quiz night has to be up there as one of my highlights of our first year. The support from our wonderful volunteers to get it all together and the total amount of money raised was just phenomenal! And what a fun night it was too. Seeing how well attended it was and how generously businesses donated towards it, tells me DTW's message is resonating with people.
Secondly, what’s your favourite thing about Deck the Wards?
Katie: I’m particularly proud that Deck the Wards was founded from a place of ‘lived experience’. Two of the trustees have spent time in adolescent inpatient care and these experiences have been a real driving force behind everything we’ve done and continue to inform our path. One thing we make sure of is that we contact and work with every ward to make sure the young people are integral in putting together the lists for us. This makes sure that we are giving them what they actually want and need, rather than what we think they want and need.
Jaz: It’s definitely knowing that the things we donate will brighten up the wards for years to come!
The things the wards ask for are generally items like games, DVDs and musical instruments. They’re things that children and young people can enjoy together during their time in hospital, but that last for years. For me that’s really important.
Hermione: I like how DTW works in partnership with the wards to put together the boxes. At DTW HQ we always get very excited after receiving the wish lists from each ward. They are always so different from each other, highlighting just how important co-production is. When we get to hear how things in the boxes are being used and the difference it makes to the young people on the wards, it spurs us on to keep going and to make the next holiday even better than the last.
And finally, what are you most looking forward to next year?
Katie: I can’t wait to hear from the wards about what would help them this Christmas and over the next year. It’s so exciting getting those lists knowing that they come directly from the young people on the wards. It’s exciting to see where this year will take us and I can’t wait for Christmas!
Jaz: Last year The Greatest Showman had just come out and all the wards asked for a copy for their young people to watch together on the wards. We played those songs on repeat whilst we packed the boxes and drove them to the wards!
I’m looking forward to finding out what would help the wards this year!
Hermione: I think next year is going to be a big (and busy!) year for us. We’re all brimming with ideas about what we want to do and achieve. This first year has been such a learning curve. I look forward to building on what we’ve learnt, strengthening the connections we’ve made and forging new ones, in order to be able to expand our reach.
Armed with Jaz and Katie’s amazingly organised shopping plan, and having rounded up a merry band of volunteers to help carry goodies, we prepared ourselves for the mayhem of Oxford Street 2 weeks before Christmas! This was a momentous occasion; our first shopping trip for the charity.
A couple of years ago I found myself up to my eyeballs in chocolate selection boxes, mince pies and brand new toys and games. I was opening up the latest generous delivery to my work – a place for families and loved ones of Children and Young People with cancer to stay while their loved one received treatment. It was a really special and touching moment and it had a real impact on the families staying with us.