Maximising the recovery of your residents in a way which is sustainable for you and your team.
Most of us would agree that our surroundings have an impact on how we feel. As we walk in nature on a sunny day, we can feel uplifted, if we spend too much time inside we don’t absorb sufficient vitamin D, if the environment we live in is too cluttered or insufficiently lit it can be difficult to think clearly and organize. Much of the nation experienced lockdown as a rude awakening to the impact which environment has on wellbeing, and our activities of everyday life.
Even when we are at our most well, the environment can shape our mood, thoughts and habits. What about when we are not in a place of mental, physical or emotional wellness? The environment can act as an enabler or disabler in these circumstances, promoting motivation and independence or presenting unnecessary hurdles. This is often what our residents face before they are referred to us. Journeying through the world of temporary housing can have a negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing. All too often these environments have reinforced a negative message about worth and dignity which can lead to disempowered thinking and obstacles to recovery.
The Psychologically Informed Environments model (Johnson and Haigh, 2011) suggests the environment is one of the core tools we can utilize in our toolbox for recovery as we support our residents. The homelessness change program noticed key outcomes when using this approach including a reduction in evictions, clients moving into independent or more appropriate supported accommodation and people getting onto training schemes or into employment (Good Practice Guide, 2021).
Creating an enabling environment is a key, but often underused way in which we can support our residents to imagine new possibilities, think of themselves differently and maximise recovery.
“People with complex needs are often systematically denied the right to feel proudly and powerfully themselves. A welcoming safe environment is needed - well decorated and well lit buildings... within which vulnerable and often isolated people can turn their lives around and move away from the streets.”
The Homelessness Change Programme
Creating a sensory environment:
- Noise and acoustics can impact the quality of sleep and the sleep patterns of your residents. Materials which dampen noise in communal areas can have a significantly positive impact.
- Creating a sensory garden (or sensory window box depending on space) including tactile plants, aromatic herbs, water, is a brilliant way to introduce therapeutic elements which are easily accessible to residents – on their own doorstep! Lavender is proven to support sleep and calm mood.
- Lighting which is too bright or too dim can negatively impact seasonal affective disorder. Try using free standing lamps in communal areas and bedrooms, and light reflective colours on walls.
- Appropriate art and aesthetics can positively impact activity and appreciation. Blank walls can be uninspiring! (Note that art must be chosen carefully and piloted with your residents as some styles can have an adverse effect).
- Colour can have a significant effect on mood. Red and yellows can be more anxiety inducing than green and blue hues.
- Resident led activities can be highly motivating. Involving your service users in the decoration and design of your supported house can be an excellent way of empowering a sense of responsibility, expression of identity and positive choice making.
Providing opportunities for positive change:
- Services who have used the principles of PIE found that improving the kitchen environment by making it more welcoming and user friendly, positively impacted resident’s diets and social behaviour!
- Recreational and inspirational objects which are purposefully left in communal areas can be a great way of maximising engagement with meaningful activity, at a time and pace which suits your resident. Books, recipes, walking routes, maps, sketch pads, topical magazines, arts materials, safe gardening tools, donated exercise equipment, can all be great ways of doing this. Sometimes a resident’s motivation can be too low to attend a formalised 1:1 or activity, and it can feel like we are setting them up to fail. Residents may come to us in survival mode where their daily habits and thoughts revolve around staying safe, fed, and possibly maintaining an addiction. Your house can signal the opportunity to engage with different ideas and occupations in a non-threatening way.
- Enablers in the environment can also include tools for structuring time if your resident has difficulty with this, or if verbal reminders do not seem to be effective. Calendars, clocks, message boards, weekly planners and other visual reminders can be useful for encouraging independence.
- Minor changes such as positioning furniture can even be significant. To enable opportunities for residents to self-occupy in positive ways, create quiet areas (an arm chair and a bookcase). To promote social interaction in spontaneous and autonomous ways, coming from your resident’s own volition, consider the arrangement of seating in the lounge or an inviting and accessible dining area.
Chloe Osborne, Partnership Manager
Johnson R & Haigh R, (2011) “Social Psychiatry and Social Policy for the 21st Century - new concepts for new needs: enabling environments” in Mental Health & Social Inclusion, Vol 15 Iss 1. Available at: http://www.rjaconsultancy.org.uk/publications.html