I am a 21 year old nursing student with the Saskatchewan Collaborate Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. I had the opportunity to be placed on the Regina General Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit this year for my third year clinical placement. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a confident student who works well in a fast-paced environment, and who excels in challenging situations. After being on the cardiac unit at the General, I was unsure of my move to the mental health unit. Don’t get me wrong; I have a great respect for mental health and those affected by it; being someone who has struggled with my own mental health barriers. However, it was not the unit I wanted to work in. To me, I wanted to be able to stitch someone up, heal a wound or administer medications and send them on their way to a healthy recovery. But those who struggle with mental health barriers and addictions will battle with it for most of their lives and I had difficulty grasping the concept of never being able to fully “heal” someone. Little did I know, it would change me forever as a person.
I never realized the impact my words or gestures could have on a person. I underestimated the power of truly, and wholeheartedly listening to someone. This is what lead to the “Warm Hearts/Healthy Minds clothing drive.”
I was assigned a young girl on the unit with a mental health diagnosis. After reading through her chart and child history I had a good understanding as to why she was admitted; and thought to myself, “she has never been given a chance.” She was homeless, as well as mentally ill with an addiction. Her biggest concern was, it was going to be cold soon and she was without a permanent residence and without family support. This woman literally had nothing but the clothes on her back. I reached out to another nurse on the unit and asked what our options were to help this person, and he told me there is a room in the day hospital for mental health outpatients that has clothing specifically for this purpose and I could take her down there to look. The word “room” was extremely inaccurate.
Another student Brooklyn Brown and the two of us walked into a converted janitors closet. The term slim pickins’ comes to mind. She managed to find the last real warm winter coat, and only two shirts that fit her, one being a sleeveless tank top. As Brook and I stood in the room we both thought, “this can’t be all that there is?” I stood there looking at this girl my age, and thought of all the things I had readily available to me. I have never known what is it like to go to sleep cold, scared and unsure of where my next meal would come from; this was her life.
And so the thought of a clothing drive was born.
I have learned that although I cannot give her a house, car, a years worth of meals or family support. I can give her clothes. I can make her warm, and I can make her feel like she is important enough for a winter jacket. Advocacy is sometimes all we can do as nurses.
With the help of UnderstandUs we are hoping to not only clothe our mentally ill and homeless, but also raise awareness of a very real problem in our city.