Friday, July 29, 2005

How New Zealand meets needs of deaf mentally ill

From the newsroom of the Belfast Telegraph, Belfast, Ireland, Friday, July 22, 2005 .....

How New Zealand meets needs of deaf mentally ill

Stimulated by the challenge of an international placement, profoundly deaf Portadown girl Emma Crowe decided to go to New Zealand to do her nursing studies and to take the opportunity to compare health care there with services in the UK. This is her story:

"I am currently based at Salford University, where I have been studying mental health nursing for three years with full access to interpreters and note-takers. This course involves 50% theory and 50% practice, which means that throughout my course I have had the chance to explore different hospital deaf units and care systems.

"In my final year, there was the opportunity to work abroad in a nursing environment and that appealed to me enormously.

"But we first had to write 500 words on why we wanted to go, with specific reasons on what we wanted to get out of the experience. This and the follow-up 20-minute presentation terrified me, but I was one of the ten to be selected and decided on Auckland, New Zealand.

"This was New Zealand's first specialist community mental health support service for deaf people and was so pioneering it won a NZ Mental Health Award. The service was established in 2001 following research that showed 44% of deaf people have an unidentified or un-met mental health need.

"Studies demonstrates that psychiatrists were using interpreters for only 50% of the time, and some referrals came from deaf patients in acute mental health facilities who did not have an interpreter for up to two weeks. They were unable to communicate with anyone in the health team, let alone discuss their feelings and state of mental health.

"Many health professionals still mistakenly believe they can effectively communicate with deaf people by passing notes, and it is also clear that deaf people themselves need help to understand the concept of mental health before the illness can be treated. Some deaf people are very isolated from their families due to communication difficulties and support workers help to bridge that gap.

"When out in the community meeting clients, they were astounded to discover I was deaf myself and had come all the way from the UK. It was inspiring to be regarded as a role model and show that a deaf person could do this professional work and help them achieve success in their own lives.

"The service has helped clients understand their own capability, what mental illness means and what recovery is all about. As part of my work experience I met some of these deaf patients and helped explain how medication may help and the side effects to watch out for.

"Contact with colleagues at the workplace was efficient and they continually came up with new ideas on how to improve communication within the team. I felt they benefited from my experience of working in several UK hospitals and hope it will encourage health professionals to look more closely at ways to improve the mental health service for deaf people in NZ.

"My visit involved a lot of travelling in the north and south islands of New Zealand and I fell in love with the magnificent country. The five weeks passed all too quickly and I really enjoyed the spectacular scenery and would consider spending time as a qualified nurse if a vacancy arises in somewhere like Auckland.

"The School of Nursing in Salford has launched Europe's first course for deaf students and when they qualify they go into the nursing register as Mental Health Nurses and take up careers in their chosen field of mental health".

÷ Further information from Naomi Sharples at Tel. 0161 295 7299. E-mail:

© 2005 Independent News and Media (NI), a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd.