Fresh take on mental healthcare
Dr Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of Mental Health Services in west Cork, strives to use a wider, more individual, approach to tackling mental health problems, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON
SOME HEALTH professionals are heroes because they make clinical breakthroughs in their speciality. Others are heroes because they are particularly caring individuals who consistently reach out to their patients with understanding, kindness and respect. And, then there are the ones who push the boundaries of their profession to embrace change.
Dr Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of the Mental Health Services in west Cork, fits into the third category. That’s not to say that he isn’t a kind, thoughtful individual who is making breakthroughs in his profession but his guiding principle is to give people with mental health problems “the kind of help that suits them best individually rather than that based on a diagnosis”.
Psychiatry has been widely criticised in recent years for its overemphasis on diagnosis and drug-based treatment. International patient movements critical of the care they received in psychiatric hospitals, are now seeking wider approaches to dealing with mental health problems. Bracken is cogently aware of these changes and critical of the medical model of psychiatry which has promoted an overuse of medication in the treatment of mental illness.
“It’s very clear to me that what service users want from the mental health service is dignity, respect and time. They want to be listened to, to feel empowered and in control. They want to be able to access different kinds of help that suits them individually rather than medication based on their diagnosis,” he says. “Our job is to work with whose voice – for too long – has not been heard.”
Conscious that he can sometimes be dubbed anti-psychiatry, he is at pains to point out that he works hard to stay “inside the camp of psychiatrists”. “I’m not anti-medication or anti-psychiatry. But I do believe that the onus is on professionals to reflect critically on our disciplines and practices. The history of psychiatry is not a pretty picture – when you consider the large asylums and the disempowerment that went with that. I do prescribe anti-psychotic medication to my patients if they want them but I’m keen to develop alternative ways of engaging with people.”
Such alternative ways of engaging with mental health problems include music and art projects, community gardening projects and peer-to-peer support groups.
Just after we met, Bracken was returning to west Cork to listen to what service users had written following a creative writing course. And, Cumasú – the Wellness Bus – is a resource library which will soon travel through the area offering a multitude of materials on looking after your mental health.
Bracken sees the 2006 mental health policy document, A Vision for Change, as a guiding force behind his work. “We take A Vision for Change very seriously and work with a recovery orientation,” he explains. The National Service Users Executive [a group of people who have used psychiatric services] judged the West Cork Mental Health Services to be the “most improved service” in Ireland in 2010.