Innovations in mental health care take rehabilitation in new directions

As she pushes the button to turn on the new laptop, Suzanne becomes visibly engaged. Her face lights up, her posture straightens, she moves her chair closer and prepares to enter cyber space.

A resident at St. Joseph’s Steele Street group home in St. Thomas, Suzanne is one of nine people receiving mental health rehabilitation therapy in the residence,  and she can’t wait to read today’s latest news on the Internet. It’s all part of her journey to recovery.

Wireless Internet access, a laptop, desktop computer and various mobile devices such as iPods, an iPad, and cell phone are all part of an innovative project that is integrating technology into recovery plans for Steele Street residents. The research project is the brainstorm of Jackie McAdams, an occupational therapist at St. Joseph’s Regional Mental Health Care. It was given the green light, and a grant of $5,000, through St. Joseph’s President’s Grants for Innovation, a program that invites staff to apply for funding for innovative ideas that will improve quality of care.

In McAdam’s project, residents are given the opportunity to learn to use a piece of technology that can assist them with their goals and recovery. For example, tablets that can provide cooking instructions and easy to locate recipes, or iPod applications that remind patients when it’s time to take medication, can be valuable tools for mental health patients.

“In today’s world, basic technology and computer skills are life skills,” explains McAdams. “Individuals who are learning to cope with mental illness should have the opportunity to develop these aptitudes, allowing them to connect with and participate in the wider community, optimize functioning and maximize independence.”

The impact as the residents are exposed to technology has been tremendous, she adds. “We’ve seen residents who were previously afraid to leave the house due to anxiety now able to venture out because they have learned how to use a cell phone and know that a member of their care team is just a text or phone call away.”

Marxy is another Steele Street resident who, through learning how to use social media, reconnected with long lost friends and relatives. Originally from Honduras, Marxy moved to Canada with his family in 1992. When admitted to hospital in 2008 for mental health treatment, he lost contact with his family, who were not supportive of his illness and recovery.

Today, as his rehabilitation progresses, he is able to take an active role in his own recovery. Learning how to download Spanish music and communicate online with others who speak his language has allowed Marxy to once again experience a connection to his culture and community. Through the Internet, he is also able to research ways to reduce his anxiety and panic attacks, sharing what he learns with his care team.

Most significant to his recovery, says Marxy, was being able to connect with his estranged father through Facebook, a relationship he hopes to rebuild as he continues on his journey of rehabilitation.

Experiences like Marxy’s are just the tip of the iceberg, says McAdams. “The use of technology is integral in the future of mental health care…the opportunities are endless.”