Longing for a “sick day”

With an impending restructure at work, my days have been a bit more stress-filled than usual.  My team of six has been reduced for now to a team of three – and we’re doing our best to keep things going despite the sense of doom and gloom about the place.

In the midst of all this turmoil, staff have been dropping like flies… with record numbers of sick days.  As for me, who rarely gets sick enough to justify a day off work, I’ve been day-dreaming about taking a “sick day” to just, well… decompress.

Sick Day

Spending a day battling the flu wasn’t quite the “sick day” I’d been hoping for.

In my mind, I imagined I’d time my “sick day” for when the kids were at school/kinder so that I could sleep in ’till 10am and then go out for a brunch with my husband (who is currently studying at home).

I then planned to dig out one of my craft projects – which have been ignored for the past 2.5 years since I went back to full-time work.  And I’d end the day by picking up my kids (who would be surprised to see Mum rather than Dad waiting outside their classroom) and then welcoming them home to home-cooked cookies.

My work has an official name for days like this.  I know it’s “technically” fine to take a mental health day, but I don’t know about you – I still struggle with the idea of taking a day off when I don’t physically appear sick.

Go to work with a hacking cough or a dripping nose and people encourage you to go home and rest up.  But arrive at work crippled with anxiety, depression or stress and no-one is any the wiser.  It’s easier to hide feelings of despair, depression and hopelessness than a fever.  I worked through months of acute depression – and no-one at work noticed, until I made a point of telling them about the struggle I was having.

Not that I advocate hiding your mental illness from your employer.  I have let my manager know about my condition – and I’d like to think my employees feel comfortable enough to share with me.  Yet, I’m well aware that just telling your staff that they’re  technically allowed to take time off to deal with mental health issues doesn’t make it easy to actually do it.  We need senior staff to model that it’s actually ok.

Today, I finally got my sick day.

Only problem was, it really was a sick day.  And it struck on a Saturday morning.  Sure I got to spend the morning in bed…. but that was where I stayed for most of the weekend. And as for a leisurely lunch with my husband – well let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling up for any kind of date.  Instead of feeling free to enjoy a Monday off work… I found myself dealing with 1000’s of tissues and an aching body that didn’t want to do anything but lie down.

Moaning that “this isn’t what a sick day is meant to be like…” my husband kindly pointed out what I was after wasn’t a “sick day” but a “sickie”.  Hmm… I’d better be careful what I wish for next time.

Mariska xx

 

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3 lessons psych wards have learnt in the past decade

Psyciatric wards have come a long way in the last 50 years. But what's changed in the last decade?

Psyciatric wards have come a long way in the last 50 years. But what’s changed in the last decade?

Eight weeks ago, I did something that I swore I would never do.  I walked back through the doors of the public hospital psychiatric ward where I spent some of the worst weeks of my life, after the birth of my first baby eight years ago.

This time, I hadn’t arrived in the back of a police divvy van.  I wasn’t disoriented or confused about why I was there. My mind wasn’t racing or tricking me with delusions. And I wasn’t greeted by emergency room staff who held me down and injected me with who-knows-what.

So why was I there?

Well, it started a few weeks beforehand, when I was out walking with a group of women.  When I found out that one of the women was a nurse in the psychiatric ward where I had been a patient, I shared my story with her.

After mentioning  how shocked I was at the conditions in the ward when I was there, she invited me to come and see the changes that had taken place at the pysch ward since then.

So I summoned up all my courage, and I returned.  And here’s three ways I found this psych ward had changed in the past 8 years

  1. It’s finally hitting home: staff can make or break a psych ward

One of the biggest changes I noticed straight away in the psych ward was the staff – and their attitude towards the patients.  Eight years ago, the horrific conditions meant the hospital I was in couldn’t attract or retain staff.  They filled the gaps with temporary agency nursing staff and “carers”.

This may work in a regular hospital ward, but when you’re mentally unwell, having dedicated, committed staff  is critical.  Seeing regular faces  – rather than a steady stream of agency staff – also helps us as patients to trust our carers. When you’re struggling with psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts or delusions, a kind word or a gentle touch from nursing staff goes a long way.    Patients deserve experienced staff who are committed to their patients and the reputation of the ward they work in.

2.  It’s more than just medical help: the right atmosphere in a ward is integral

Less than two months after I left the ward eight years ago, it was demolished.  To be honest, I’m not surprised.  It was a dark, dingy place – with cramped conditions, unsuitable living areas and a small concrete courtyard where patients could walk in circles for exercise.

Entering the new purpose-built building, I immediately noticed the big picture windows, fresh colorful paint, friendly atmosphere and artwork on the walls.  The head nurse proudly showed me the art-therapy room, family visit room (with direct street entrance so kids didn’t need to walk through the ward to get there) and an outdoor eating and sports area.   There was even a dark room with bean bags, rocking chairs, weighted blankets, soft music, projected light patterns and musical instruments  – a place where people struggling with mania could go to calm or soothe themselves.

I know it’s only superficial stuff.  But sometimes, the way a place looks, smells and even feels can have such an impact on the way patients feel about being there.

3. Our voices have been heard: patients must be kept safe from harm by other patients

I’ve left the best change for last.  The biggest change that I could see was that, while they shared the dining room and common areas, men and women had separate sleeping areas.  Upon admission, female patients receive an electronic bracelet that gives them access to the female-only sleeping quarters and a small lounge room that they can retreat to if they feel unsafe.  The ward was also built with two wing that could be used as required:  one for regular mentally unwell people and the other for those displaying violent or predatory behaviour.

THIS IS INCREDIBLE, AMAZING STUFF!

I guess you’re sensing my excitement.  Well, in my mind this is a game-changer.

In this ward in the past – and most likely in many others around the world –  vulnerable, unwell female patients (and in some cases male)  have been attacked or raped by other patients.  You can’t compare a psych ward to other hospital wards – where patients are there because they are physically unwell.  Genders sharing sleeping quarters in situations where people are psychotic, delusional and not “in their right mind” – and not giving women a safe space – is a recipe for disaster.

I was reassured to see that the safety of women in this psych ward at least, is now top-of-mind for staff.  And in the case that I’m every a patient there again, I’d be very pleased to know that  staff now have the ability to separate out patients known for their violence or predatory behavior.

Have these changes been made in every psychiatric ward?

While I’d love to believe they had, I doubt it.  Less than 50 years ago conditions in psychiatric wards – or mental asylums as they were called – were barbaric.  Change has come, but lack of funds or political will means that it is slower in some places than others.

As people who know what it’s like to be mentally unwell and vulnerable, we need to band together and keep asking for change.   Without our voices, speaking up about the conditions in these wards and insisting that changes are made, others like us will continue to suffer.

Mariska xxx

Have you noticed any changes or improvements in psychiatric wards over the past decade?