Mental health cafe helps designers improve psychiatric units

1-Jun-2015

Pop-up Dragon Cafe is providing researchers with feedback on hospital design and care pathways from mental health patients

A pop-up mental health café in London is helping to change the perception of psychiatric illness.

The Dragon Café was set up by the Mental Fight Club, is held every Monday in the crypt of St George the Martyr Church in Borough High Street, and is open to anyone with mental health problems.

It provides a simple, affordable and healthy meal for visitors, together with a wide range of creative and wellbeing activities, all of which are free and open to all.

Recently having celebrated its 100th session, the café was the brainchild of lifelong mental health patient, Sarah Wheeler.

Psychiatric wards I have experienced are not places you want to be. They are a place of embattlement, where you lose your identity and you have a sense of disempowerment where things are done to you. Often being in these facilities is traumatic in itself, and that’s awful

“Psychiatric medication is good for acute episodes, but on an ongoing basis, I’m not sure,” she told delegates at the recent Design in Mental Health Conference in Birmingham.

“Psychiatric wards I have experienced are not places you want to be. They are a place of embattlement, where you lose your identity and you have a sense of disempowerment where things are done to you. On the whole they are dreary and unstimulating. Often being in these facilities is traumatic in itself, and that’s awful.”

Wheeler set up the café as a way to provide a social space where people with mental health problems could share their experiences and take part in activities and therapy.

“Mental health services are nowhere near as effective as they could be,” she said.

“They need to change and focus on the individual, not the label and the problem. They need to be more-communal spaces that aid wellbeing.”

Since it first opened, the Dragon Café regularly attracts more than 200 people every Monday. “People will travel to get want they need,” said Wheeler.

“The café is the complete opposite to most psychiatric wards. There’s no referral, it is completely open, it’s not subject to personal budgets, and the service is provide in a high-quality, beautiful and relaxing environment, and that’s vitally important. It’s not what patients are used to having spent years in dreary, drab units.”

Another consequence of the café, aside from helping patients to overcome their illnesses, is that it has become a hub for researchers who want to find out more about the impact of the environment and various therapies and wellbeing activities on patients.

“Hospitals look at you as a biochemical problem that will be fixed by medically-trained doctors,” said Wheeler. “They forget you have intelligence, an imagination, an identity, and things you want to talk about.

There are so many trends in the NHS and design changes so quickly. Our service users are going to help take mental health environments beyond the medical model

“We have had researchers from the Department of Health, ProCure21+ and the Institute of Psychology down to see us. We have helped in many areas, including looking at improvements in the design of mental health bedrooms.

“We are helping to move mental health design from high-security prison environments to more-homely facilities.

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“There are so many trends in the NHS and design changes so quickly. Our service users are going to help take mental health environments beyond the medical model.”

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