"Toilet Facilities in Mental Health Rehabilitation Ward"
About: Lanarkshire Community Services / Adult Mental Health Services Lanarkshire Community Services Adult Mental Health Services
Posted by Dazzle (as ),
Today I visited my friend in an NHS Lanarkshire mental health rehabilitation unit. I have visited many times before, and although the facility is relatively new and modern it definitely has never felt like anything other than a ward. It is very clinical in appearance (well at least the ground floor is - I have never seen the bedrooms upstairs).
A rehab facility as far as I am led to believe is where people go to enable them to take steps towards returning back to a more independent and fulfilling life after a hospital admission for acute mental ill-health. To my mind it should also be about building back up peoples confidence, self-esteem and self-worth. These vital components to recovery are often overlooked with preference being given to the more "practical skills" which of course are also important.
Today I asked if I could use the toilet (which I had done before).
To the left hand side of the narrow corridor which runs from one end of the rehab unit to the other - are 3 identical doors. Identical unisex toilets with one exception - one has a "staff toilet" sign on the door.
I was told yes I could use the toilet and I automatically reached for the toilet door which was closest to me which was not the one marked for staff. As I went to open the door (which was locked) the staff member screwed their face up, shook their head with a look of disdain and said "don't use that one - it's for patients" and unlocked the staff toilet for me to use. Meantime my friend a "patient" witnessed this interaction. (She also told me that staff frequently lock the toilet doors and people need to ask to use the toilet? ? Dignity.....)
I was duly shuffled into the "staff" toilet which as far as I could see was exactly the same as the "patients" toilet I had used the previous week.
When I left the toilet and ultimately said goodbye to my friend it took me a while to figure out in my head why this interaction had disturbed me so much. I then realised that it was because an act like this, as unintentional as it was - was most definitely a simple and effective unconscious reinforcement of stigma.
It says "you are different to me".
As a friend who I have discussed this with tonight said to me I was "subconsciously recruited to 'othering'" where I wasn't a "patient", so I was automatically of the "others"
On an open ward area like this, why not have public toilets which are cleaned and well maintained and which can be communal. And yes....I can hear you shouting "risk assessment" - but as I said the toilets were EXACTLY the same so where is the additional "risk"? I also agree that staff have a right to private personal space away from public view as would happen in any other workplace. So if staff toilets are required - why not have them in a completely separate area?
It says a lot about how service design respects or doesn't respect people whether staff, patients or public.
This is probably more accidental than by design, but it absolutely reinforces stigma and power inequalities. Such a simple - most likely subconscious action, indirectly causing such stigma.
Going back to my point about confidence, self-esteem etc, take a moment to think about how this may impact someone who has possibly already spent some of their life due to stigma in society thinking "why can't I be like them" and/or" why am I different".
And interestingly - I currently am a patient of mental health services in NHS Lanarkshire - albeit a different service. I also work in mental health services so which toilet do I use? ? ?
I don't blame, or hold the person responsible that I interacted with today as this is a problem much bigger than people. This is perhaps more about institutional stigma, and I hope it has given people who are responsible for service and facility design some food for thought.