This blog post has been written in support of Deaf Awareness Week 2019: Celebrating Role Models. You can find out more about Deaf Awareness Week and read blog posts by our other role models here.
My name is Frank Essery and I am the Senior Advocate for SignHealth. I am a qualified Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA), Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) and Generic Advocate. I have worked for SignHealth since 2003 during which time I have gathered a few grey hairs! I work in the community and Mental Health Hospitals where Deaf people are sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1984 (amended 2007).
On a typical day I will arrive at one of the specialist Mental Health Hospitals for Deaf people through which I support Deaf individuals who are sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1984. I go through security checks to restrict certain items being brought on to the ward, and on arrival I ring the ward bell to gain the attention of the nursing team so I can be informed about each patient. If it is deemed safe, I then meet individual patients one-to-one to have a private discussion (I am usually approached by around 4 or 5 patients). During our conversations we discuss the patients’ rights, their treatment and any other issues they wish to discuss. It is important for me to capture this information on SignHealth’s database for future support.
I would describe my core role to be a “listener” to the patient. Often the patients may communicate in an abstract way and the narrative is difficult to follow. I listen to them and we discuss their views on their treatment, rights and other issues. Patients often get frustrated that they have been detained in hospital for many years, so I support them to understand their Care Plans. One important part of the Care Plans is ‘Talking Therapy’ where patients are given the opportunity to openly discuss their feelings and any symptoms of their mental illness. Patients are also encouraged to learn to manage their own medication and are supported to access the community.
One patient has proven to be a challenge to support and has been detained for around 23 years. It was the common thought amongst professionals that this man simply refused to cooperate with the therapy he was being offered and was therefore still a risk to the community. I have worked with this man for 16 years and during this time I came to the opinion that it was not that this man “won’t” fully cooperate, but that he “can’t” fully cooperate. It was still the view of many that the patient just simply “won’t”.
During the 16 years that I have worked with this patient I have observed his inability to understand simple questions, often answering inappropriately and missing the point of the question entirely. This man had been infected with Rubella when his mother was pregnant with him. Rubella can cause certain birth defects, such as; intellectual disability, blindness, deafness and heart disease, among others. Research on Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) has found that later in life adults may develop eye problems, hearing loss and heart conditions necessitating the need for a pacemaker. I decided to make further enquires and contacted an organisation who have led this research and I discovered that CRS can cause brain disorders and that such individuals may require alternative approaches to suit their individual needs when receiving therapies. The hospital team have since altered their approach to this man and he has a new therapy regime. Also, he is now allowed regular leave from the hospital without staff escort by his side. Staff now follow him from a distance when he is on local leave. I hope I have played some part in helping him take a small step forward in his treatment.
The reward that I get from the job is seeing the Service Users achieve something after I have empowered them to lead their own lives. Many of the patients who are discharged from hospital go on to lead successful lives. Many have thanked me for supporting them with one patient going one step further and offering to split any future Lottery winnings with me (although I had to remind him of SignHealth’s policy that we cannot accept gifts!).
Some sadly do relapse and may return to hospital. Often these relapses are in part due to the lack of accessible services for Deaf people in the community (these services would be much cheaper to fund than hospital treatment and would save tax-payers money!).
Deaf Awareness Week is a way of spreading understanding about the lives Deaf people live every day in the community and the barriers we face. This will hopefully allow those non-deaf people to help us break down these barriers and make all services accessible. When a service remains inaccessible to Deaf people then we need to raise awareness to service providers, Councillors, MPs or even the Queen (a member of her family was Deaf!)
SignHealth is one of the main campaigners fighting for Deaf people to have 100% access to mental health and physical health services to improve the health of the Deaf community. We provide information about health-related issues to the Deaf community. But SignHealth can’t do it all because of our limited resources. SignHealth will continue to try to ensure that every single Deaf person has access to all services to the same level as non-deaf people.
For information about SignHealth therapy service get in touch:
Call: 014946 87606
SMS: 07966 976747