Hopefully Creative 4 – Positive Mental Wellbeing Through Craft

If you have read my post you will be aware that I work with people who experience mental health issues. We use craft therapeutically in the group and encourage people to continue to work on their projects at home. The group is very much lead by what the service users feel they would like to do, so sometimes the group work freely on their own projects, other times we split the session into a 1 hour workshop, followed by an hour of “free time”, working on individual projects.

Its World Mental Health Day on Friday and this seems to be an ideal time to share some of my experiences of working with people who experience difficulties in this area. Its worth bearing in mind that around 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems in our lives. That statistic picks up the people who are recognised and diagnosed, but there are many more of us who struggle with the stress of day to day life and know there are times when life seems to have the upperhand. So this post isn’t for people who are ill and their carers, it isn’t for mental health professionals, its for everyone….

How does the Group Work?

We congregate around a round table at the end of the room with our knitting and crochet. Some sessions are run as a 2 hour workshop which includes a lunch break, others are 2 hours working on individual projects and sometimes we run a 1 hour focused workshop, followed by an hour working on individual project. Its very much lead by the needs of the group, who arrives for the session and what was negotiated in the previous session. The group is very fluid with some longer term members, others who dip in and out and some who come for the odd session. Although I have a session plan this is very flexible

We also have people who attend the drop in who will come and sit with us but choose not to craft. This is ok as sometimes they are getting the courage to join in or they may need to talk and prefer to share their problems with a group of people who are apparently absorbed in other things…its less threatening than a one to one with a trained listener I think. This encourages the group to listen and share their experiences and make suggestions based on how they have handled similar situations.

How Does Crafting Help?

From the foundation of Broadmoor and perhaps before, crafting has been documented as a strategy for helping people who are suffering from mental illness. In the days before medication it was felt to help people keep calm, focused and to give a sense of purpose and achievement. A recent Channel 5 documentary really opened my eyes to this surprisingly humane approach that developed in response to the previously draconian and abusive conditions of previous mental health establishments in the 15th – early 19th C.

However crafting seemed to go out of favour over time, with the desire to move away from the “basket weaving Occupational Therapy sessions” that seemed to get a bad name back in the late 70s, early 80s. But in recent years, partly due to the work of Betsan Corkhill at Stitch Links who has set up and developed an online forum plus multiple research projects which demonstrate why crafting works as a therapy. For some, like Laura Rutter of Vintage Princess it has played such a significant role in recover that it becomes a livelihood.

The following diagram has been developed from a combination of verbal reporting and the observations of myself and other staff / volunteers

Benefits of Crafting

Concentration – when you are depressed, anxious or hearing voices it is hard to focus on anything. However members of the craft group ave all  commented that they get lost in the “rhythm” of the work as it is repetitive and find that they can stay on task for longer, with time extending as their skills improve

Relaxation – Knitting and crochet are repetitive activities that have a soothing effect, they also work as a distraction. Group members report being able to relax more at home when crafting

Distraction – Having an alternative activity takes the focus off how you feel, the majority of group members say they experience fewer negative thoughts when crafting, one lady also reported that the voices she hears are far less troublesome when knitting.

Sense of Purpose – it is often difficult to feel motivated when ill, so having something to focus on that has an end result is helpful as it helps the person set small achievable goals to work towards. This varies from person to person so I always have a wide range of patterns with me, some specially designed for the group to give members a focus. Its great to see the changes that happen slowly over the months as people gradually achieve more

Increased Confidence – loss of confidence is a huge problem for many of the clients, partly due to the effects of their illness on them and partly due to the social isolation and losses they have faced through becoming ill. Working on a project with a purpose and achieving an end result provides a much needed boost and members start to look better, interact more and choose projects that challenge them. As the tutor I have a responsibility when choosing projects for group tutorials or working with individuals to select a project  that encourages and build self esteem.

Problem Solving – as people become more confident, I work with them on identifying and correcting mistakes in their work. This helps develop problem solving skills as we explore options and approaches and the person takes on more responsibility for this over time. The group also helps in another way, as members often share their problems and others then share experiences and solutions. I think one of the reasons this works so well is that people feel less exposed about talking when they are busy working on something at the same time.

Social Skills / Communication Skills – when people become ill their confidence in social settings and their ability to communicate effectively with others can be affected. Within the group we have some simple ground rules about turn taking when asking for help, respecting the needs of others, not interfering with another persons work and so on. This helps re-establish social skills and people have reported feeling more confident in other settings as a result. We also do alot of listening as people open up and we are often joined by others from the drop -in who sit with us and chat. Doing a hobby in a social setting is a great way to meet people and make connections too and the long term hope is that some people will feel able to join local knit and natter groups or participate in formal lessons.

What Do I Get From Running This Group?

I enjoy crafting and I enjoy working with people, especially those who like myself, face challenges in daily life. I’m writing this post from bed as I’m in the middle of a pain flare which has sent my muscles off on strike for better pay and conditions. I’m finding it frustrating but I know that there is an end point where I will start to improve and I have more time for crafting because there ain’t much I can do at the moment. I was very fortunate to have been a nurse and then worked in the field of Self Management for 5 years before my illness deteriorated to the point where paid work became virtually impossible. Craft gave me hope, as did the skills I’d picked up over the years. skills I know that can help others who face daily battles with any long term condition.

This group gives me the opportunity to indulge my passions for crafting, teaching and working with others. I can use my experiences and skills when we talk things over to give alternative perspectives and also develop ways to pass on those skills like goal setting and problem solving in a softer way through craft. I’ve faced a lot of the problems through physical illness that people experience with mental health issues, such as isolation, loss of confidence, loss of friendships and its a horrible place to be. I’ve survived post-natal depression and had odd bouts of depression since that have needed medication. I’ve been so totally stressed by life that I had to find new ways to live in order to survive. And I am grateful for a conversation with a friend about 8 years ago that lead me to eventually finding a better way, developing a relationship with God ( no I don’t evangelise through work as that isn’t appropriate in this setting) and that taught me to understand myself better, to see myself differently and my journey to the place I am today where I realise that I still have something to give, even if my legs periodically tend to think otherwise. It would be selfish would it not, to keep all that to myself?

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