Patients get bigger say in new mental health scheme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am


After 15 years plagued by mental illness, Chan Lei-hung is holding her head high.

Her mood disorders under control, she has been hired as the first full-time mentor for patients in the mental health system.

Appointed three months ago as a peer support professional at Castle Peak Hospital, she draws on her experiences to provide care and emotional support to the patients. 'It's not only about helping others; I'm gaining a lot from it too,' Chan said. 'It means a lot to many patients when they see I can also work.'

Hiring a person like Chan is part of the hospital's new approach to treating mental illness.

The hospital has sent seven employees overseas for training and held seminars in Hong Kong for 300 in the past two years. The approach has been adopted in three departments - rehabilitation, occupational therapy and community health. The hospital plans to extend it to all departments in three years.

Dr Sung Wing-kuen, associate consultant for the hospital's general adult psychiatric service, said the recovery-oriented approach involved patients deciding their treatment and leisure activities. Doing so helps them to take on responsibilities, re-establish their identities and integrate into the community.

Dr Siu Wei-man of the hospital's department of psychiatry said that while the traditional approach focused on how to stabilise an illness and reduce the chances of the patient returning to the hospital, they were now looking for strengths in the patients, and making improvements to quality of life the goal of treatment. 'We let the patients hold meetings in their wards and they can suggest what facilities can be improved. They can also plan leisure activities for themselves, unlike in the past, when doctors have all say,' she said. 'They can make their own choices, and we can see that they are happy about it.'

Sung said under the approach, treatment was more tailored to the patients. 'We would try to find what they are good at, and encourage them to further develop their strength,' he said.

'It's about conceptual change. Doctors are now no longer superior to the patients. They are their partners. Now instead of calling their full names as listed on their medical records, we would ask them how they'd like to be called.'

Sung said as the approach involved more communication, working hours for staff might be longer in the beginning.

'But the staff find it rewarding at the same time. We see fewer conflicts in wards, and the working environment has improved.'

Chan said she had observed an improvement in support for the mentally ill in the past decade, and she hoped that improvement would continue.

'We need the doctors and community to patiently understand our needs and to communicate with us. Time may be a luxury, but I think Hong Kong has been doing a good job.'