By Becky Somerville
A new research project being coordinated by Western may bridge the transitional gap for mentally ill patients leaving the hospital and re-establishing themselves in society.
In the wake of changes to provincial mental health care, the study is being launched as part of a major initiative to improve the quality of life for Ontario's psychiatric patients being released into the community.
"Being discharged from a psychiatric hospital is a very lonely experience," said lead researcher Cheryl Forchuk, an associate professor of nursing at Western. "We're testing an intervention which includes overlapping staff and peer support."
Announced yesterday, the province-wide $750,000 investigation will test a new transitional discharge model which focuses on the development of safety-net relationships between the patient, the hospital and a peer supporter, Forchuk explained.
Funding for the study comes from the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital, the London/St.Thomas Psychiatric Hospital, the London Health Science Centre and the Whitby Mental Health Centre, Forchuk said.
Over three years 540 discharged patients will be matched with peer supporters who have also been consumers of mental health services, she said. Follow-ups on some of the patients will comprise a portion of the research, she added.
"There is a myth in society that consumers are violent people. That's not true," said Sue Ouseley, executive director of the psychiatric support group Can-Voice.
Matching discharged patients with a peer supporter who has also been mentally ill but is successfully living in the community is important to easing the painful transition, she said.
Co-researcher and clinical nurse at the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital Mary-Lou Martin said the research was a proactive way of helping the mentally ill comfortably re-enter society.
"Certainly there is still a stigma attached to people with a mental health problem," Martin said. She added education and more public understanding will help to dispel these images.
A peer supporter who has already made this adjustment along with a trusted hospital member will help in the crucial period of transition, she added.
"The impetus for this [research] really came from the clients themselves because they identified the point of discharge from hospital to community was often very challenging for them," Martin said.
Lori O'Donohue, a peer support worker who has been a consumer of mental health services, said this type of reinforcement gives patients a sense of empowerment and the determination to start putting their lives back together.
"Mental illness can hit anyone at any time," O'Donohue said. "I just hope society can visualize what it's like before judging."