Presentation: Coming Out (of the goldfish bowl) – Breaking down the barriers and challenging the culture of mental health services.
Speakers: Peri O’Shea, Cath Roper, Anne Francis.
This workshop facilitated discussions regarding the culture of mental health services. You can find the abstract for this session here.
The multiple analogies that come from the image and representation of a ‘goldfish bowl’ were explored (including the image of nurses’ stations as fishtanks), and the conversations that ensued looked at potential positive and negative effects of the separation between staff and consumers in mental health services. This included the boundary issues and defining the difference between the personal and the professional; the physical and relational division between ‘them’ and ‘us’, and the community and shared sense of identity that can come from owning and sharing separateness.
The audience shared examples and encounters that were perceived as indicative of an unhealthy culture around mental health services. Experiences regarding the use of medications such as a “ping em” [with PRN] mentality; interactions and exchanges where people were made to feel degraded and dehumanisen, and the lack of spaces where practitioners can express and reflect on the multiplicity of feelings and emotions that can surface in their work.
So what can we do to ensure consumers feel in control and safe in their treatment, and practitioners feel proud and safe in their job? Suggestions included promoting an awareness of language – people are not ‘mad’ or ‘bad’; create common spaces where staff and consumers can participate and ‘be’ as equals; use advance directives and encourage voice and choice; involve families and carers; be more culturally aware and create environments where people can practice their culture and beliefs, and above all else – be human.
“We work, we have friends, we love and live…and we also have a mental illness” (Consumer, 2013).