More than half a million adults in Florida are reported to suffer from a serious mental illness. At any given time some 1,700 of those whose condition requires significant care are in one of Florida’s three state operated mental health treatment facilities Those facilities are: Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny and North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville. Some residents may stay for a brief time until their condition is stabilized and the crisis is over. Others may stay for years, even decades, trying to overcome their mental health challenges. Being here at Florida State Hospital, I got to work with individuals who have a severe mental illness. They are chronic cases, long-term, and difficult to treat. And that’s how they end up here at Florida State Hospital because they are so difficult to treat. The challenges can be extreme. Residents are fighting a disease that often ravages their ability to act rationally as well as the frustration of being separated from their families and society. Started getting deep depression and stuff. I, ugh, had to start taking medication. It just got worse after that, you know. Just kept getting worse and worse all the time. It takes a high level of commitment and compassion to serve these individuals and these facilities draw staff members who understand that. A lot of people don’t understand the type of people that we work with. If someone close to me and I can help them, and they say “Thank you, Ms. Bright, you helped me a lot” And if i can get this person on the road to success and get them discharged, that ‘s a big A+. Because these facilities are primarily located in small, rural communities, staff members often dedicate their entire careers to this service. My whole family worked here. Everybody that I know, there whole family works here. This is the place to work. These men and women get to know the individuals they care for as residents and as friends. I was told to break the cycle and go to school and get an education if I want to work as a nurse, then come here. But as far as just coming here, working as a UTRS, my family advised me not to do it. They told me that it was not something that I wanted to get myself stuck in. They don’t want me to just follow the tradition of everybody just because they work in town, they have to work at this hospital. I was kinda iffy about it, but once I got here, I kinda, I, I like my job. And it’s different when you like your job. Their shared challenges shape community and daily life in these facilities. We serve, kind of two masters, so to speak. So, we serve the residents here, we’re trying to treat them and get them stable mentally and back on course with whatever goals that they’re trying to reach with their life. But we also serve the community, and we’re trying to protect the community from individuals who are too dangerous to be back in the community. Individuals who might hurt someone who have hurt people in the past. So we’re talking about anything from maybe a simple battery charge that someone had, to, you know, first-degree murder. We had this one resident, she was female, female resident. She was HIV positive. When I came work, I would bath her, I would feed her, I would cloth her. I would do that every day. So, I helped this lady. I bathed her every day I was here. I feed her and I just made her feel good. I got her out of the bed, and I helped her engage in differenct activities. And, we would go outside for some fresh air and she would talk to me about her family. I would just sit there listen at all these stories that she had to tell me and it was just amazing how this lady opened up to me. I needed, I needed the help bad. If you’re that type person you can’t handle it you, you gonna have to have some help. And, I needed it. I thought I could dealt with it by myself, where I was at, but, I couldn’t. It was just, it’s hard. And, being here showed me that I actually did needed help. And now that I see that it’s, that I’m here, and I got the help that I need Maybe I can keep on, um, hopefully keep getting the help. The lady wind up going to the medical unit and she wind up staying up over there for a while. And I was ward staff at the time. And I went over and I would sit with her, every day, and I will still take care of her and do all those things that I did for her she was over here in the building. Um, a few months, the lady passed away and I was really, really sad. I attended her funeral. It was only a few people there. Her family did come. And when they came going to sit around and it was talking and it was like they want to know who this lady was that if they were taking care of their sister and their mother so well. They had his card and he just wrote that they appreciate how I helped their mother. It’s been a, the, um It’s, it’s… You learn a lot while you’re here too also. You can see things that going on. things that there trying to do to help other people and it’s it, there’s a lot of people that needs help. And they’re doing it. be at my best that I could do to help this lady and I did grow an attachment to her. And it made me feel good on the inside. Not just because the family gave me a letter and if they said “Oh, Thank You” because I did what I knew how to do to take care of this lady. Be able to try to cope. Try to be able to see, that what they have, some of ’em can’t, can’t help their self. Sometimes, these confrontational moments with individuals that you’re trying to help and to understand that you can’t take anything personal that they’re saying and to remain professional at all times. That is a safe environment, as the way it is right now. I mean it is pretty much as safe as you can get it I guess. But, there’s a lot of unpredictable people here. There are times, where things escalate, and we have a crisis Where serious injuries could occur and where your life may be in danger if you’re not staying alert and you’re not using your training and the skills that your taught. Be able to know what’s going on around your environment and I just, I try to see that now, I try to avoid it as much as I can, you know. But it’s hard to in a small area, you know. Sometimes, you just have to have the staff to help you. They say it can get better, and it seems like it is getting better. But, um… I know what when I get out of here, if I ever have When I do get out i will have to to relocate. I just, maybe one day like to be able to get back with my family. I’m not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, but I can help you I was a help aid and that’s what I did. And it made me feel so good, at the end of the day, and I still feel good today knowing that I helped her, up until her dying day, here at this hospital.

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