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.