A New Approach To Mental Health Treatments

Mental health treatment centres are specialist wards that create a better patient experience and are designed to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Visitors heading to the two specialist wards at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) will be greeted by brightly coloured walls, airy interiors and serene gardens.

The 40-bed Mood Disorders Unit (MDU) Inpatient Service caters to patients with mood disorders such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, while the 20-bed Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP) Inpatient Centre treats patients with psychosis, symptoms of which include hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thought or behaviour.

Together, these two facilities reflect advances in the treatment and management of mental health conditions at IMH. The wards facilitate new treatment programmes and patient management methods while catering to the needs and desires of patients uncovered during focus groups. The wards offer Class B2 and C accommodation options for both male and female patients.

Related: Busting the Myths of Mental Illness

More Customised Mental Health Treatment

In both wards, patients are grouped according to their conditions — a shift from the usual dormitory-style wards where patients with different conditions were accommodated together. 

“It isn’t ideal for first-time or young patients to be in the same ward as others with more severe or different conditions,” said Assistant Professor Sujatha Rao, Chief of the Department of Early Psychosis Intervention, which runs the EPIP Inpatient Centre. “Having specific wards for different illnesses addresses this.”

In addition, customised group therapies are now conducted in specially designated therapy rooms. It had previously been difficult to do so, as patients were accommodated at different wards throughout the hospital.

Customised Group Therapies for Mental Health

Customised group therapies — which include healthy living classes, art therapy and occupational therapy sessions — are useful in treating mood disorders, said Dr Mok Yee Ming, the head of the MDU. During these sessions, patients gain support and learn to build skills that help them cope with their mental health and other life challenges, including learning how to express themselves better.

Peer Support Programmes for Mental Health

Both wards have also introduced peer support specialist programmes where recovered patients co-facilitate therapy programmes and interact with patients. “This is important in the treatment of early psychosis as such patients are often adolescents and young adults,” said Asst Prof Rao, “Youths rely a lot on their peers for advice and guidance. Through this scheme, they have someone who has lived with the condition to turn to for support.” Feedback sessions show that patients like these programmes. “They now feel that they have an active role in their recovery,” she said.

Related: Psychiatric Nursing Homes

A Relaxing Atmosphere at the Mental Health Facilities

IMH’s healthcare teams have observed that patients, especially first-time ones, are often hesitant to be admitted to such facilities, mainly due to misconceptions about mental health hospitals. “We do offer these patients the opportunity to see the ward before deciding, and all our patients so far were reassured and comfortable with staying for treatment,” said Asst Prof Rao.

To make the admission process more convenient for patients, both specialist wards have also adopted a scheme where patients are admitted directly to the wards from IMH’s emergency room, bypassing the general adult inpatient wards. This also speeds up the admission process, as patients could previously spend up to a day in the general wards waiting for a review by the specialist team.

The open concept of the wards has also encouraged independent living and freedom of movement. Patients can divide their time freely between the living and dining areas and the kitchen and pantry. This provides them with a change of scenery as and when they need it. “It also prevents them from feeling cooped up,” said Dr Mok.

Night lounges at both wards further encourage patients’ independence. Those who can’t sleep can spend the night reading a book, playing board games or listening to music at the facility. Asst Prof Rao said this flexibility could aid a patient’s recovery. “A hospital stay shouldn’t be too structured, with everyone going to bed at the same time. It’s important that we help patients feel relaxed, almost like they’re at home while retaining a recovery-conducive environment."

The wards also help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. “There are many preconceived notions of mental institutions. These wards show that our patients are just like those in other hospitals and have similar needs for comfort and interaction,” said Asst Prof Rao.

This article was first published in the Oct 2016–Mar 2017 issue of Imagine. Permission is required for reproduction.

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