Uniting Annesley Haberfield is one of only two aged care facilities in Australia that caters specifically for the needs of residents living with mental illness.
Many of Annesley’s residents have experienced a lifetime of chronic or relapsing mental illness and are particularly vulnerable. When they moved into the purpose-built home in June 2017 from their previous boarding-house-style accommodation, many found the move challenging, but it wasn’t long before positive results were seen.
To mark to success of the move, Annesley has embarked on a program with the University of Technology, to teach residents how to take photographs, given them a camera, and asked them to photograph “what makes Annesley feel like home?”
Participants were able to add words to their photos to describe what home means to them, and then the photographs were displayed in a private exhibition.
Exhibiting their work was “uplifting and exciting”
Annesley resident, Stephen Cusack, 67, has lived at Annesley for five years. He told HelloCare he enjoyed being part of the photography project. “I hadn’t used a camera in a long time,” he explained.
Mr Cusack photographed a range of things that make Annesley feel like home. “I photographed a table that has a collection of my paintings and photos of my family. I also took a photo of the Uniting sign that is in the Annesley entrance foyer,” he said.
Mr Cusack also captured his decorating efforts at Annesley. “I really like decorating different parts of my home with items that are important to me,” he said.
Taking the photographs helped residents bond over a shared purpose, Mr Cusack said. “We were surprised at how similar some of our ideas were,” he said.
Exhibiting your own art can be overwhelming, but Mr Cusack took it in his stride. “It was very uplifting and exciting,” he said. “It was a really nice feeling seeing others enjoy your work.”
Mr Cusack said he would like to continue taking photographs. “I think this would be a good idea,” he said. “I have always enjoyed painting and this is another art form that I haven’t explored before.”
“Home is peace”
Some of the words residents used to describe their home revealed what was important to them. For example, they said:
- “Home is being able to sit on a comfortable chair and having discussions with friends”
- “Home is peace”
- “Be happy, look beyond yourself for a deeper understanding of yourself”
- “I like going to the fridge when I need to”
- “Having a TV in the lounge room is really important”
- “Sunny spaces to relax”
- “Coffee in my favourite chair”
Successful transition to group home inspired study
Hannah Buckland, Mental Health Specialist at Uniting Annesley Haberfield, explained to HelloCare that when residents first moved to Annesley, their improvements were so marked they decided to make a study of the program.
“When Annesley was renovated and moved to the household model, many residents found it really stressful,” she said. “For many, Annesley was the first stable, secure accommodation they had been in.
“A lot of planning and support went into preparing the residents for the change. By the end of the first week, we saw significant changes in the residents’ ways of living.
“We started to observe that residents hygiene practices were improving, there was a decrease in aggression and transfers to hospital.
“It was so significant that we started a research project with the University of Technology Sydney.
“As part of the project, residents were given cameras and asked to take photos using the theme ‘What is Home?’.
“The exhibition, held in mental health month, was a way of celebrating the great work of the residents as well as acknowledging their contribution to the local community,” Ms Buckland said.
The purpose-built facility consists of four cluster homes, groups of small homes much like villages, and has a café, pool, courtyard, walking track, day spa and chapel.
The home gives people living with mental illness the opportunity to live independently and to choose how to structure their own lives, while still having support services on call. Residents can come and go as they please, and eat whenever they choose.
The facility marks part of a fundamental change for Uniting. The ‘household’ model of care sees the operator give residents more choice and control over their lives, just as residents would if they lived at home.
Ms Buckland said Annesley helps residents in a number of ways.
“Firstly, the residents are matched with each other by mental health diagnosis as well as interests, friendships and backgrounds,” she said.
“The same staff members are consistently there, so residents and staff can develop strong, trusting relationships.”
Ms Buckland said residents are also heavily involved in decision making.
“Resident’s choices, dignity and independence are respected. It gives them a feeling of security and safety in the home, which often they have not had in the past,” she said.
Ms Buckland said there is a growing need for aged care for older people living with mental illness. “Mental health-specific homes offer support to a very vulnerable clientele,” she said.
Food, the pool, and friends were key themes
Ms Buckland said there were three main themes to the photographs: having 24-hour access to a fridge and pantry, the outdoor garden area, especially the Annesley pool, and their connections with others in the home.
“For many of the residents at Annesley it was their first time taking photos,” Ms Buckland said. “We held information afternoons and workshops on how to use a camera. The participation rate was higher than we had anticipated. We have received many resident requests asking to do a similar project.”
Residents bonded over the project, which generated improvements in mental health.
“Many residents that prefer to spend most of their time in their room, or by themselves, were participating in the project as well as attending the exhibition,” Ms Buckland explained.
“The residents really enjoyed seeing their work displayed. They straight away wanted to see their artwork and have their photo taken standing next to it. They wanted to know when they can have the photos back to put in their rooms.”