By Dean Quinn
After many years of being passed around many different mental health services, something has become rather clear to me. The waiting rooms we have to sit in appear to have an effect on how the appointment goes. Or rather, our view on how the appointment went. The environment we are in has a profound effect on our feelings. For example, if you were sitting in a room decorated to your taste, you’d feel a lot more relaxed than a cold clinical environment. I know that at least for me, my surroundings will play into how I feel or my views on how something went.
The waiting rooms I’ve been in when having to talk about my mental health have definitely played a part in how I have felt about things. To really get a good view of things, I’ll talk a little about all the places I’ve been. The first being the waiting room to see my GP. This is one I have to do frequently due to med reviews and to get referred to the correct services. Luckily, the waiting room isn’t too grim. It’s a nice open space with lots of leaflets to read. There’s big windows, so there’s plenty of natural light. One thing I’ve noticed is when I’ve been sitting there, when there’s nothing sitting out about mental health, I’m immediately filled with a sense of dread. I worry I won’t be taken seriously. I feel like I’m wasting resources by going for my mental health. Someone else who needed to see a doctor had to wait just a bit longer because of me. I would always come out of the appointment feeling like my issues had been trivialised and I’d feel like the appointment was a disaster. However, whenever I’ve seen lots of leaflets about mental health, especially the issues I would have, I feel so much more confident. I feel validated and like my illness is taken seriously. Leaving those appointments, I felt like I had been taken seriously and I had positive feelings about how it went.
A waiting room with a huge sense of duality to it was the CAMHS waiting room. I remember it being a small room that was always way too warm. It had old worn carpet and some comfy brown sofas. One side of the room had lots of toys and a TV playing cartoons, while the other side had posters about a lot of serious issues such as eating disorders, self harm, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse. Sitting in that waiting room before seeing my psychiatrist was uncomfortable. The impression I got was that they weren’t really equipped to deal with older teenagers. Of course, I went into the appointments thinking this. After I left, I remember feeling like they treated me like I was a young child and that they didn’t think my mental health issues had a deeper cause that wasn’t just playground bullying. This frustration led me to dismiss a lot of what my psychiatrist said, and to be very defensive and stubborn in my treatment.
The worst waiting room I’ve ever been in was definitely the one I had to sit in while I waited to get my psych review done. The purpose of this was to see what treatment would suit me best. I remember the room distinctly. The best way to sum it up would be that it was similar to how a horror movie might portray a mental health ward. There was a flickering light, a dripping water cooler, and chairs that were so old I was surprised they could even hold my weight. The room obviously had not been decorated in years as the leather on the chairs, the white paint on the walls, and the blinds all had distinct nicotine stains on them. The room was large, but empty. This added to the hopeless atmosphere. Sitting there, I genuinely felt there was no hope for me, and it raised my levels of anxiety while also filling me with dread. When I left the appointment, I felt it had went terrible and I was hopeless. I thought recovery was something that would never happen for me.
The last waiting room I will talk about is the most positive. I had been referred to group therapy, which although it wasn’t the type of therapy I needed, it was the most positive treatment I had. The room was spacious and had a variety of magazines. It also had this little tree where people had left notes about their experiences there, along with some cute positive things. What immediately caught my eye was a little set of drawers that had all been hand painted. Each little drawer had a different emotion on it. I remember opening them all and they all had affirming notes and things that could help with what you were feeling. There was artwork from the creative therapy group on the walls, and if you looked out the window, you could see a beautiful garden that had been kept nice by the gardening therapy group. I went into my appointments feeling calm and safe, and I came out of them feeling fulfilled and happy. What strikes me so much about this is that the group therapy didn’t actually do much for my mental health other than give me new hobbies. It definitely was not the type of therapy I needed. So why did I have such a good experience with it?
After looking back on it, I realised that my feelings to how my treatment was going seemed to be linked to the environment I was in. On a subconscious level, the environment was almost giving me a placebo effect for my appointments. There is no denying that you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed if you’re in a good environment, so why don’t we apply this to waiting rooms? I’m not saying we should paint all the rooms bright colours and have inspiring quotes on the walls. That would just be patronising. I just believe that people may have a more positive experience if the rooms we were in just simply looked welcoming. If nothing else, it would at least help with the anxiety of having to open up to someone a whole lot more than a drab and depressing environment.