“I know you work from home. Are you a shrink?” she asked me.
She remembered from our previous discussions that I worked in mental health. I explained to her that I am an occupational therapist (OT), that my adult clients have a mental illness, and they need some assistance to function independently in their home or in the community.
“Mental illness. You mean like the violence that happened in Connecticut last week?”
I told my neighbor that just because a person has a mental illness does not mean he/she is violent. I educated her with several concrete examples of what I do as an OT to help someone. Shortly after our nice conversation, I left to see a client.
Once I arrived at my client’s home, we made a list of goals she wanted to accomplish before the end of the year and of those goals, what we could do together during our session. One of the things that I did as an OT was to have her brush her teeth. I think the last time she did this was the previous week when I saw her. Shortly after she took care of her dental hygiene, the doorbell rang; she received a package. It was a weighted spoon I had recommended to her last week to help her with eating. She has tremors in both hands and complained of how difficult it is for her to eat sometimes, particularly soup. I told her how she could carry the spoon in her purse so that when she dines out she could use it then as well. In the evening, hours after I worked with her, she called me. She sounded happy and excited and told me how she used the weighted spoon while she ate dinner.
“It worked. Now I don’t have to wear my food!” she joked.
My client went on to say how she looked forward to using the spoon when goes to a restaurant or café. She told me how one time a waiter saw her struggle with her tremors. Apparently, he said that she looked like an ‘old person’ and that she would never get a job.
For some people who have a mental illness, they struggle to do basic activities such as grooming and hygiene, eating, paying bills, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. Not only do they struggle, but they also have to contend with stigma from family, friends, society, and the media.
Just like the person who has a physical illness and tries to live a meaningful life, so does the person who has a mental illness.