Why do we do activities with patients? The reasons vary from individual to individual, but some important reasons include:
To allow patients to express themselves - People express their identities in different ways; some women like to apply make up to express their femininity, some people like to draw and discuss things that have happened in their lives, some like to play music. For some patients, activities provide an opportunity to affect their environment, perhaps by having their artwork displayed on the wall, causing a piece of paper to change colour with paint or filling the room with noise.
To orientate people to the time of year and the world outside of the institution – Some activities focus upon seasons or festivals (such as painting with fallen leaves in the autumn or making an Easter display). Some patients like to read newspapers to keep up with events outside the hospital. For others, knowing that they attend sessions on a particular day adds structure to their week that they would not otherwise have had.
To enable patients to develop a skill – Some patients might like to learn to do something new such as to paint or grow plants. Learning new skills makes us feel capable and improves self esteem.
To enable patients to get better at or maintain a skill they already have – The more we do something, the better we get at it. If we don’t practice a skill for a long time we find it more difficult or even impossible when we try again. Some patients may use their time with the volunteers to maintain their skills. This could be in something visible such as knitting or drawing or it could be something less obvious like taking turns or making eye-contact.
To give the patients something to talk about and to remember – The benefits of an activity can continue long after the activity has finished. The person will be able to talk to their peers about what they have done and experiences they have shared during the activity.
To improve mood – When people do something they enjoy, they feel better for it and more inclined to look for more enjoyable experiences which make them feel better still.
To offer distraction from distressing symptoms or difficult situations - Some patients will be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. They may feel very anxious or hear voices that cause them distress. Others might have difficulties in their personal lives. Concentrating on something different for a while might not solve their problems, but doing activities can distract people from their symptoms and problems, giving some much-needed respite from unwelcome feelings.
To help patients to communicate with each other - Sometimes people who find it difficult to converse and engage with others find mixing easier if they have something in common to discuss, for example when they are participating together in an activity.
To release energy – Patients are able to release some of their energy in a useful way by engaging in activities.
To reduce challenging behaviour – If patients are able to have an enjoyable time in club and use up some excess energy, they are likely to be more relaxed on the ward.
To promote choice and self-advocacy - Patients are able to choose what activities they do and how they do them. Making choices empowers people and gives them back some control over their lives. Some choices may be as simple as what colour nail polish to wear or what music to listen to.
To improve self-confidence – Activities can allow patients to achieve something and to interact with others, which can improve their self-confidence.
To create an end-product – Patients complete some activities because they want to have and use the end product – this could be food, a letter, a model or a painting.