once again a paper I wrote for school about my place of work and what I have taken from it
Jeffers 1 Coping With Mental Illness
Concrete Experience: Prior to working for Telecare, I worked for Wal-mart. Tired of the corporate world, and the drama attached to it, I decided to find a new job. A fellow employee told me that I should apply at her other job. She then proceeded to give me a brief run down of where she worked and what she did. The company was a psychiatric treatment facility. She worked with the mentally ill in preparation for their release into the community. I did not think that sounded like something I would be interested in. The disinterest was intensified when she told me it was a forensic unit. This meant all the inhabitants had committed a crime and been found guilt except for insanity. The whole idea scared me. However, after a few more weeks of torment at Wal-Mart, and pleading by my co-worker, I decided to go put in an application. Shaky and nervous, I rang the doorbell of the residential facility. I braced myself for the unexpected. I half expected people to be running around in hospital gowns, screaming obscenities, and being rushed, football style, when I came inside. Yet when I walked inside, a complete different sense came over me. Everyone I talked to was polite, respectful, and eager to answer my questions. I sat at the dining room table and completed my application, looking around and assessing the surroundings. It was difficult for me to distinguish who were staff members and who were patients. I had come with resume in hand and was able to introduce myself, and give my paperwork directly to the facility administrator. Within three days I was offered an interview, five days later I was a recovery specialist at Telecare Recovery Center. I came into this position with no experience in mental health and very stereotypical views of mental illness. Movies like Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and Hannibal were
Jeffers 2 Coping With Mental Illness
the point of reference I had for thinking about mental illness. I was advised after I was hired, not to look at case histories or backgrounds and just get to know each resident for who they are now. Every day was bliss. I was getting paid to go on walks, to go bowling, to go with them shopping. To me it felt like being in a house full of peers. It never seemed to me that any of these people had problems, or suffered from things like I had seen in the movies. After we were able to get to know each other, and they felt more able to be themselves, I was then privileged enough to see these residents struggle with, and learn to manage the symptoms of their illnesses. I have engaged in long and heartfelt conversation with the residents about their painful pasts and what they have gone through to get where they are now. This has been a life altering experience for me. It has been two years now that I have been employed with Telecare. My ideas, approaches, and attitudes have completely changed in this time. The way I view mental illness is nothing like it was when I came in, and the general way I relate with people is radically different. I have seen the effects of institutionalism and have a first hand knowledge of what it means to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Most importantly, I have been able to watch these men transform and grow while they learn to cope with their illness and get back to living a “normal life” and learned what role I can play in aiding them in this transition.
Jeffers 3 Coping With Mental Illness
Observations and Reflections: Coming into the mental health community I was scared. Afraid of what the residents might do to me, or risks I may face. Once this fear wore off I faced conflict. Due to my lack of experience my fellow co-workers were not enthused with having me in the facility. They fought hard to get me fired; looking for any misstep I may make. I was not as versed in how to properly interact and keep my professional boundaries in a residential setting. This gave them a great deal of fodder in their quest for my termination. Under pressure from staff and my supervisors I was forced to learn very quickly what I need to do and how I needed to behave. Once I did this I made a point to improve on the system and help to spark changes. Without the fear, and intimidation, of being fired I was able to create my relationships with residents and was astounded how much I could learn from them when I was paying attention. I was taught by a seasoned clinician that, the most effective way for us to help them is not to intervene. Rather then interjecting what we think they should do, or what is right and wrong; we should listen as they process, and discover for themselves, what is the right path for them. This took some real effort on my part. I went in with the idea that they had a problem with their brain and they were not only sick but also mentally slow. When I stopped to listen, the truth was vastly different. Although they have been diagnosed with an illness, several of them have been in remission for nearly a decade. None of these gentlemen could be termed “slow”. While some of them have unique, and at times, challenging behaviors; they are bright, capable and have a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds that I could learn from. When I first began everyday was an adventure. Not only in what a mental illness really is and
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how it can affect people but how the systems and local communities deal with those who are “mentally ill.” We have spent many nights talking about their experience at Oregon State Hospital. A vast majority of my clients spent over a dozen years in their care. We talked about living their lives drugged, and incoherent to the world. Getting a job when you are in an institution is next to impossible unless it is a contracted company with the institution. I have come to have a greater sympathy for those who have gone through that and realized how hard they have had to work in order to be ready for release. Lately there have been several stories in the paper about patients being conditionally released and “dumped” on a community. I feel like much of this stems from a lack of education. The community at large is unaware of how long these people have been incarcerated or the fact that “The rate of repeat criminal behavior by state hospital patients is only 2%.” (Berger 2008). This is far better then that of prison where the “rate of repeat offenses within three years is 31%.” (Berger 2008). Yet people believe that inmates should get better treatment because they have done their time and deserve a second chance. One of my residents committed burglary, a one year jail sentence, and served more then five years in the state hospital. Is that not enough time for the crime? Not only that but it will take him over five years to be able to live somewhat on his own. In addition to this I do not believe these people are aware of the strictness of monitoring these individuals must endure in order to stay in the community. They are required to participate in treatment daily and weekly, only allowed out of the facility during certain hours, and are required to be with staff. There is so little education out there about recovery and success that clients have had in managing their illness and living
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productive lives. I know that while working with Telecare I have learned a great deal about mental illness, and my ideas have completely changed regarding their fair treatment. Learning Outcomes: In this setting I have learned so much about what mental illness is, but even more about myself and my relationships with others. Working in a residential setting where you see the same people everyday requires so much more tolerance and patience than jobs where you work with different customers everyday. You are unable to turn away from conflicts or hostile customers. It is not a sigh of relief then a simple, “I’m so glad I will never have to see them again.” You always deal with the same people, and you have to confront issues head on. It is more like dealing with a family and the same types of relationship skills. This environment has given me a great deal of life experience and knowledge in how to conduct myself. One of the first lessons I learned after working there for a short time was how far off my, and I think those of the population at large, perceptions of mental illness and those suffering from it were. While some of them may suffer, and present dangers, when they are unmedicated; for most, the medications contain their symptoms just like chemotherapy treatment does for cancer. While there may be some side effects, the illness is contained. Went I went in for my interview I remember telling my husband that I was interviewing to work with “crazy people.” Now I would never refer to my clients as crazy, or mental, or even ill. They are so much more and for many their diagnosis is only a small and well managed part of them.
Jeffers 6 Coping With Mental Illness
I also discovered new tools to create and develop relationships with difficult individuals, and how to help these people build and grow their own relationship skills. Some of these residents do still struggle with their symptoms, and some behaviors are side effects of their medications. Mood swings are common in a variety of my clients. Often times these changes come around very quickly and I have learned to alter my approach in order to calm them and confront their issues, depending on the state they are in. Others are very difficult to approach or engage. In this I have discovered a greater sense of tolerance and understanding. I have to be willing to work with their readiness level and take what ever engagement they are willing to give me. For some this is just getting them to talk for any length of time, and hopefully one day initiate conversation. At times this causes me a great deal of frustration. Things that seem so simple to me, and choices that require no thought, often seem very large for these individuals. In essence these small choices indicate having to take responsibility for themselves and the results of following through with this decision. For others this is helping them relearn skills to start their own relationships when they get back into the community and or a few individuals it is brushing up the skills they already have. While this is one aspect of rebuilding, it is not the most important aspects. After having no power and control for years these clients need help and support in relearning the basic self care techniques necessary to live on their own and end their dependence on the system. I have had to learn tools to motivate and support these individuals in creating confidence that they can achieve despite their illness.
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Applying to New Situations: Working with the mental disabled has given me, not only a career, but a sense of purpose. With the knowledge I have now and the relationships I am building, I feel compelled to educate others about the realities of mental illness and confront the stigmas attached to it. Mental illness is a disorder in the brain and should be viewed like any other physical ailment. By working with, and promoting, residential facilities for those diagnosed with an illness, I may be able to help change the misconceptions of these individuals; and promote a better life for those afflicted. I have also gained a greater level of acceptance for those different from myself, or even the community at large. So many of these men have faced severe adversity and found the strength to push ahead to have something better. Not everyone can be so fortunate to lead a “normal” life. We often take for granted the privilege of making our own choices; going where we want to go, eating what we want, sleeping when we want, and being able to have a loved one and see family. Even these simple things are stripped from individuals when they move into an institutional setting. This knowledge makes me appreciate the simpler things in life and the freedoms I am allowed daily. My sympathy and understanding has given me the necessary tools to deal with frustrations. At work and at home I am often upset when I feel I am not being listened to. More often then not, I do not understand why it is so hard to get a simple task completed. I often do not consider the other persons desire to do things, or take into account that they may not see the value. In order to accomplish something the individual must have the desire to do so, this stems from intrinsic motivation. Armed with this knowledge I am
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learning to put my frustration aside and approach it in a new way. I must first get them to see the value in said activity. In my house there is often a battle of wills between myself and my children in regards to cleaning their room. I hear from my daughter, “why do I have to clean it? I like my room messy.” Before working for Telecare my approach was to tell her she had to clean it because that was the rule. During my employment I have focused a great deal of attention on motivational theories. So now rather then fight with my child, I work to create dissonance and establish value in having a clean room. This starts by pointing out when her room is getting dirty, I ask questions about finding her toys and how difficult it is. Once she decides to clean her room I then ask her how she likes her room when it is clean. This has worked well to build up her confidence that she can keep it clean, and her self perceived value in having a clean bedroom. Some mental illnesses bring with them a heightened sense of empathy. This makes those affected acutely aware of their environment and the moods and feelings of others. If I come to work in a bad mood it is quickly identified, and spread. This has caused me to become far more aware of how I effect the environment and the atmosphere. This has caused me to find ways to release my tensions before I come to work, or quickly reset my attitude while at work. Not only do I use this at work, but I have found it very helpful at home as well. My mother always told me that negativity is contagious. I believe this to be true in certain instances. When I am in a bad mood at home, or overly stressed, my children not only feel this stress, but often feel the effects of my anger. I am less able to deal with them effectively and my communication skills begin to quickly diminish. This often puts
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my children in a negative space and then we feed off each other. When they do not listen well I get more upset; when I am more frustrated they listen less, and the cycle continues. I have discovered it is far better to take myself out of the situation for a short time, whether it is to shower, or work in the yard, or just go in another room from my children. This has helped me reduce my stress and helped to improve my relationships with others. I think the most important thing I have learned, and use most frequently, is how to conduct myself in a professional manner. This is the first job I have had that did not require manual labor and the first position I have held where I am looked upon as a professional. The training and experience I have gained at work in this respect has helped me network, add value to my name and business reputation, and establish a tone of how I would like to be viewed in the future. The steps I have learned to help others grow, I can apply to myself and my personal growth. So long as I believe I can achieve my goals, and have support from those around me, nothing is out of my grasp.