Queen's University

Bringing mental health care to the community

Andrea Perry, MSc'06 (OT)Courtesy of Andrea Perry

Andrea Perry, MSc’06 (OT), works with people with serious mental illness, helping them to live as independently as possible. She is part of an interdisciplinary team working in downtown Toronto. “We visit people in their homes, on the streets – wherever we can,” says Andrea. “The biggest reward for me is how, after many attempts to gain a client's trust, you look at them and you finally feel the connection. It's there. They realize that you are there to help -- that you are right there with them, hoping and holding on for a brighter future. So many possibilities open up at that point. You get a sense that although this person has been handed a very challenging and oftentimes unfair, deck of cards, that maybe, just maybe, things are going to be okay. And then, for instance, after years of living on the streets or in sub-standard housing, they get the keys to their new apartment. It's incredible and so inspiring.”

Andrea and her team have used some inspired methods to empower their clients. “I was part of a group that sought to use photography to effect positive change. The clients were given cameras and shown some basic tricks of the trade, and then we arranged for an exhibit and sale. Hearing someone say to you, ‘This made me realize I am good at something,’ -- well, there are no words. It just inspires you to say to yourself, ‘Great, now how can we generate that feeling every day?’”

The greatest challenge in Andrea’s work is the stigma so prevalent towards people with mental illness. “The fears, the criminalization, the systemic issues that permeate on down into their daily lives…sometimes, it's hard to muster up the motivation to keep plugging away, to keep trying to find the resources that will assist your client, but there are so many reasons to keep on going. That's why we are all here.”

“My Queen's degree offered me an appreciation and a leg-up on the importance of community-based health care. We had several opportunities, in both course work and practicum experience, where community development and advocacy were the focus. These, along with my mental health classes, were a highlight. They set me up incredibly well to appreciate that health care occurs well beyond the walls of a hospital. It's around us all the time, and knowing how to tap into it, and marry the resources of it with the goals and aspirations of your client -- that's what it's all about. Helping people to live where they want to live, to do what they want to do, to feel like they have a place in society -- that is at the heart of community-based mental health care. And this was a fundamental lesson I learned at Queen's.”

Andrea is now working towards a Master of Health Sciences degree in Bioethics at U of T. “Ethical issues are generally well-articulated in the realm of acute care, but seem to be much less so in the areas of chronic care, particularly community-based services,” she says. “It's my hope to explore the ethical issues that health care professionals face particularly when providing care in the community. It's a rewarding place to work, but it is also deceivingly complex, as issues of privacy, boundaries, scope of practice and duty of care arise (among many, many others). If I can better understand any of that, I'm hopeful that I will be able to contribute to this field for many years to come. That would be a real privilege.”

Queen's Alumni Review, 2011 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2011 Issue #1
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