Dementia and mental illness

January 12
At last, dementia and mental illness have hit the headlines and we are not surprised or repulsed by mention of them in the press anymore. In the olden days, many of us preferred to ignore these conditions.
However, even though the drive for us to have dementia-friendly societies has created some supportive environments for the afflicted, I believe we need to go further than this. It is not friendliness that is required, it is informed awareness.
It is well-known that mental illness afflicts different people in different ways. Sometimes, people with certain medical conditions can become very violent. It is no good just being friendly at the time. Knowledge of self-defence and self-preservation is needed. Also, one needs to be determined enough to demand help.
It surprised me when the Pope felt he had to hit the person’s arm when she clutched his so firmly uninvited. Yes, he needed to get away, she was being unreasonably forthright – but when I had to visit a care home regularly, I asked for advice about what to do when some of the patients insisted on grabbing my hand and not letting go.
I was told that what you can do is to turn your hand towards their thumb and they are forced to let go. I was surprised that the Pope did not appear to try to do this at first. Surely, someone in his high profile position is given such advice?
There may be many people among us who appear to be really awkward or unpleasant. I wonder how many of these people are actually simply mentally ill and could be helped if this were recognised?
In many cases, mentally ill people will not acknowledge that they are suffering for if they are living in an unreal world, they certainly are very unlikely to be able to tell the difference between their world and the saner world outside.
I witnessed a mental health nurse with tremendous patience once slowly bring a mentally ill person round to see reason by talking to her and reasoning with her.
What is certain is that there are many people out there who need such professional help and if we want a better society, providing this should be a top priority.
Rosemary Westwell


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