Recovery houses: an important stepping stone home
For some people with mental illness, the transition from hospital to returning home can be frightening and overwhelming experience - especially if you have been away from your community for an extended period. Our recovery houses provide a vital stepping stone and a chance to learn vital skills that can help people gain their independence. We asked Natasha from one of our support houses to tell us more about the impact they have.
Jean* has been on a mental health ward for a few weeks and has made good progress in her recovery. However, once discharged back home she feels isolated. Jean feels overwhelmed with daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, and copes with this by starting to self-harm again. Quickly, Jean’s mental health starts to deteriorate, and she feels an increasing sense of hopelessness.
Jean is not alone. It is well recognised in clinical guidelines that a poor transition from hospital to the community has negative implications for people and their families (NICE, 2016). A recent study has found that people with a mental health diagnosis are at a much higher risk of death from unnatural causes, including suicide, in the weeks after they have been discharged from hospital.
There have been calls for more to be done to help people transition from hospital back into the community. Rethink Mental Illness supports NHS services by providing some step-down community care services.
I am a support worker and interim service manager for a recovery house, which is a residential service run by Rethink Mental Illness. People who have been on hospital wards come to the recovery house for an average of a 2 week stay. Even in this short period, we do vital work to help people prepare for going back home.
Everyone’s goals during their stay are specific to the individual but can include things like helping with finances, working towards appropriate housing, and developing daily living skills (such as shopping for and preparing meals).
We also provide emotional support to people who may be finding it difficult to cope with being out of hospital after an extended period. Staff at the recovery house prioritise making time to talk to residents, listening to their experiences and providing support in developing coping strategies.
Step-down services such as the recovery house provide a safer option for patients rather than returning straight home, as support workers can monitor residents’ wellbeing and raise any concerns before they get back to a crisis point. Residents often say that the recovery house is calmer than the ward environment, providing them and their families with more time to adjust to life outside of hospital.
In this way, leaving hospital doesn’t have to be a big jump, but rather can be a step forwards towards independence. This therefore can lead to better outcomes. For example, in Jean’s case, we can help her develop coping mechanisms, make connections with community groups and mental health support services so that she doesn’t feel isolated, and help her gain confidence in cooking and cleaning.
This is only one example of how we can help people step-down back into community care. It is vital that more step-down community services are offered to patients once discharged from hospital, to give people the best possible support for their recovery.
If you would like to learn more about the work of our recovery houses, please take a moment to watch this short film on our Facebook page. You can follow Natasha on twitter via @NatashaChilman
* Jean's name has been changed for confidentiality.