Mental health consumers in the community: everyone “should have access to the arts”

Caring Christian community

2001. Twenty years ago, a person who had a psychotic experience may have been admitted into a hospital ward for years.

That same person or a person with the same set of symptoms may never enter a hospital today because there is better care in the community and more support for the family. The illness can be treated without necessarily having to be admitted into hospital.

“There are a whole lot of people coming through now who will never have that big institution experience because money has gone into community care”, mental health worker Stephanie Cairns says.

“For the majority of people, the system works very well.”

Take 5 Te Whare Marama is a community mental health day service set up to support mental health consumers and managed by Ms Cairns.

They are a secular organization that supports people with mental health needs by providing daily activities and operate as an incorporated society, who are non-profit and provide support and opportunities for people to develop skills.

Twenty percent of the population will suffer from a mental illness sometime in their life. 3-5% of that group, particularly people with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and major depression, use Take 5’s services.

Take 5. Renamed MIX.

About seven years ago an art space was added.

“The art space is one of the most positive things about the house really. There is the opportunity to be creative, express yourself in a way that is not talking or writing, and is so beneficial for everyone because creativity can tap into a side of yourself that is a bit hidden,” Ms Cairns says.

She says that there are some highly creative people with mental health issues. Although some will use their experiences to enhance their creativity, others will benefit from art experiences because of the confidence and self-esteem building it brings.

Artists from Take 5 have been included in several exhibitions run at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt.

They believe all people, no matter what disability or background should have access to the arts and encourage artistic innovation.

Ms Cairns says the fact that the day service is available helps many consumers.

“They know if they have a need it is here. Some people only use it when a crisis is going on or they are going through a bad patch.”

As a Christian, she says it is important for Christians to stand alongside people with problems.

“Christianity provides the basis of my motivation in that I think Christians should be involved in an ‘out-there’ sort of way, working with people in the community who are disadvantaged.

“I think that acceptance and belonging or trying to extend that to people, that’s a big part of how I interpret my Christianity.”

The group of people who use it every day often don’t feel comfortable anywhere else in the community, she says.

Some people have had long-term institutionalization and may have spent up to thirty years in large psychiatric hospitals.

“The next task is to create that wider community integration where you’re getting real connections with people. You don’t want to create a community within a community and that’s the challenge of our services, to make those real connections with people.”

Ms Cairns says that when she thinks of the sort of people that Jesus would have gathered around him, she sees mental health consumers sitting in the front row. “I’m talking about the people who wanted to be close to Jesus because of the healing that they encountered.

I think a person’s personal faith can be a major help in their journey and there are also the support people can get in a caring Christian community.

I don’t draw the line too heavily between those who are mental health consumers and those who aren’t because we are all on a journey; we are all trying to live life.”

By Peter Veugelaers

Published 2001. Challenge Weekly

Author’s note: Take 5 has changed name to MIX.


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