A place where hope starts to grow

Zee knows he won’t be here forever. He knows one day he will go home, back out into the world that exists beyond the hospital walls and he wants to be ready for that day, in more ways than one.  He understands that being an active participant in his own recovery means a greater chance of continued success in managing his mental illness, both upon discharge and throughout the course of his life.

Zee is an inpatient on the Forensic Unit at Regional Mental Health Care St. Thomas, part of the St. Joseph’s Health Care London family, where a multi-disciplinary group of staff members spent months planning for, and bringing to life; the wellness centre, which he utilizes daily, accompanied by someone from his care team.

Consisting of two main components that go hand-in-hand; group therapy and quality of life activity pods, the centre’s purpose is to offer opportunities for patients of the forensic program to engage in activities that support recovery through education, skill-building, and maintenance of a balanced and healthy daily routine.

Therapeutic groups for patients, include: illness management and recovery; adventure based counselling; spirituality; concurrent disorders management; and smoking cessation.
The quality of life pods include a fitness area; reflection room; creative expressions area; gardening centre; games and media area; resource room for pre-vocational work; kitchen for meal-planning and preparation; and a music appreciation room.

“All of the quality of life pods were chosen because they are portable and affordable activities that patients can continue to participate in at home upon discharge,” says Maureen Ellis, occupational therapist.  “We teach patients skills in budgeting, responsibility for their own resources and encourage something they can afford to do on their own budget…this is a place where hope starts to grow.”

Zee works out in the fitness room at least five times a week.  “It has really helped to keep me both physically and mentally fit,” he says in between sets. In addition to keeping himself in shape, Zee has discovered that the wellness centre has had many other positive benefits. He is working on kicking his smoking habit and has gained control over his eating disorder by learning to make healthier meal choices. He has even found a way to connect with other patients and provide positive peer support. “I’ve been able to work out with and train other patients to help them improve their physical fitness,”  Zee adds with a grin. He also enjoys relaxing and pondering the next phases of his life in the reflection room and playing Wii games with his friends in the games and media area.

Robert is another patient who relishes his time spent in the gardening area of the wellness centre where all types of plants, flowers, vegetables and herbs are potted and tenderly attended to. In the warmer months some are moved to the courtyard where patients continue to care for them outdoors and use them to prepare healthy meals.

Vince is rekindling his interest in playing the drums, which along with a guitar, keyboards and vocal equipment are available to patients in the music appreciation room. The room even boasts the technology for patients to record their own tracks. Vince often spends time jamming with recreation therapist Bob Finlay, where between beats he recalls playing the drums as a kid and explains how music helps him with his own personal recovery. “It’s an excellent way to release energy while at the same time produce a creative expression piece.”  Vince and Bob hope to put together a forensic rock band with the goal of playing at the opening of the new Elgin County facility in 2014.

Robin enjoys painting by numbers in the creative expressions area. “When I’m with Robin in the wellness centre, she talks…she doesn’t talk about painting by numbers, she talks about her life, her goals,” says Mary Ellen Ruddell, social worker.

Stressing the importance of balance, structure and routine, Mary Ellen knows the therapy sessions and activities provided by the wellness centre go a long way in helping patients move forward in their lives. “These are things that patients can do to take an active part in their own recovery and well being. It is a rewarding experience to watch one of our patients light up when they connect with an activity that has meaning for them, or reminds them that they are good at something such as gardening or painting,” adds Mary Ellen. “It’s like I can still do this, despite the fact that I have a mental illness and came into contact with the law. Be it a drummer or a good cook, a gardener or a musician I’m still the person I was before.”