Working in mental health services

For almost 20 years I have worked with people with mental health issues.  I work for a benevolent agency which seems like family, and I always say it is a good place to be, whether you’re a staff or a client.

The things we do don’t seem like work lots of days.  Our clients are people,  just people, like anybody else, but with  special problems.  Mental illness knows no prejudice: 1% of people worldwide have some kind of mental health issue. 

The majority of the world sees people with these illnesses as unpredictable, dangerous, and not desireable to have in their communities.  Those beliefs are totally inaccurate for most of our clients. Our agency has worked hard to provide good residences in regular communities and then fostered the concept that these are people. The stigma that they fight every day, we fight alongside of them, so that they can have lives,  which is what they want and need. 

The newest concept in mental health residences is Fairweather Lodges, and I am Lodge Coordinator for two of our Lodges.  There, people who are stable and goal oriented to improve their lives can have lives, making their own choices about things fairly independently with little help or direction from staff.  Help and direction can be increased at any time that one of the Lodge members needs it, and then reduced again.

Lodge life is like……Life!  They grow gardens, and have a cat if they choose to, grill supper outside,  do laundry,  maintain their houses and shop for groceries.  Whatever everybody else does in their day, all that happens at Lodges as well.  Ordinary people, doing ordinary things.  Many work, and if they are not ale to work for some reason, they volunteer.  Several Lodge members I know volunteer at places like nursing homes, Red Cross, and historical societies. 

In my travels thru the mental health system in two counties, I have met some very memorable people.  One of the most memorable just passed away.  This was a lady who had schizophrenia and took a lot of medication  but still somehow didn’t have clear thoughts most days. Schizophrenia can be like that, some peoples’ symptoms are worse than others.

Even with such a severe illness, she was fun, and kind hearted, and made me laugh, and I made her laugh, and I thought a lot of her. Years ago when I worked in her residence, she was always trying on clothes and looking girly, and one night we went shopping and we sprayed each other with perfume samples and left there smelling…..loud!  We laughed and laughed about that.  Along the way once I told her she was the Coolest Girl!  She said, No, I was the Coolest Girl!  So we had this little banter back and forth for many years, about who the Coolest Girl was.

Last week before she passed away, she had been very sick with a physical illness for a while.  We laughed several times about the perfume spraying incident, and how bad we really did smell. And I told her she would now have to be the Coolest Girl, cos I am getting too old to be Cool.  We laughed and enjoyed the banter again, and she said she would try.

I am glad to have been able to know the Coolest Girl, and will never forget her.

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