The people helping make Christmas a little easier for patients with mental illness
During the festive season, mental health teams at Sydney Local Health District are offering extra support – and spreading the spirit of Christmas – to people with a mental illness.
“The vast bulk of our clients have ongoing psychotic illnesses, like schizophrenia, and may also be dealing with other physical health complications,” Ishara Senanayake, the District’s mental health services patient and family experience officer said.
“They are the same people who you stand behind in the supermarket queue, the person who holds the elevator door open and the person who is wearing a daggy Christmas T-shirt. They happen to have an illness which affects their health, just like others may have diabetes or migraines.”
Some clients lack the social skills to engage with people and tend not to participate in everyday activities and their sense of isolation can be further exacerbated at times of celebration for others, she said.
The District’s Mental Health Teams aim to keep these people engaged in their local community, to limit their loneliness, and to offer support, especially at Christmas time.
“We try to link our consumers with community activities by charitable organisations like the local Christmas carols, Christmas lunches and Christmas hampers. Sometimes, it can be a simple gesture like saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to them that makes their day,” Ms Senanayake said.
These include organisations like the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield and the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross which provide assistance and festive fare over this period. The District also distributes Christmas hampers donated by Gethsemane House.
This year, 500 hampers which contain items such as shaving cream, deodorant, aftershave and food will be distributed to people treated by the mental health teams working across the inner city area.
“When they receive a hamper their faces just light up. For some that’s all they get. We are a clinical service but we are a conduit to others who also work very hard to bring a little happiness to those in need in the community at this time of year,” Ms Senanayake said.
In preparation for Christmas, clinicians work alongside consumers to plan their Christmas expenses and gift buying; and may provide hands-on training on catching public transport to and from family gatherings.
The mental health clinical teams working in the hospitals work hard to have as many people home for Christmas. There are Christmas lunches and gifts organised for those who remain in hospital over the festive season.
These simple acts make people who are living with a mental illness feel like valued members of society, Ms Senanayake said.
“Sometimes patients are treated as an illness not as a person. People may recognise someone as ‘That’s a person with schizophrenia’ rather than ‘That’s Adam.’
“We forget that they are a person first and foremost. A person with interests, likes and dislikes and habits like you or I. Treat them as a person first rather than an illness,” she said.
For more information about the District’s mental health services, please see https://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/