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Giving dignity to people with mental illness

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Nicholas and Kim Darceuil this year opened Dignity House, a residential treatment centre for people with mental health challenges. The couple are pictured with (bottom left) Lakila Akindola, the facility’s case manager and (top left) Calvonnae Jones, a mental health support worker (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

In March, Kim and Nicholas Darceuil opened Dignity House, a residential rehabilitation programme that prepares people with mental illness for life in society.

With 50 years of nursing between them, they recognised it as a service that was needed in Bermuda. Patients referred to the Pembroke facility have access to the husband and wife team and their staff of 26 psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, occupational therapists, a case manager and medical support workers.

Before the opening of Dignity House, the only available option was a plane ride away.

Nicholas and Kim Darceuil this year opened Dignity House, a residential treatment programme for people with mental health challenges (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

“We are both nurses and we’re both passionate about people,” said Mr Darceuil, a mental health nurse of 25 years who has a full-time job at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.

“We both experienced different levels of clients, patients in the community that needed more support than just acute or stabilisation in terms of setting them up in a home. We saw a great need for clients, who we interacted with professionally, who needed rehabilitation, and hence we brought the rehabilitation model to Bermuda.”

Both he and his wife, a public health nurse who left the Department of Health in February so she could focus on Dignity House, were concerned by the number of repeat patients at MWI.

“Rehabilitation involves improvement in social skills, change in thinking and learning how to cope with life's challenges,” he said.

Residents spend between three and six months learning “acute life skills” from medical professionals who use dialectical and cognitive behaviour therapy to show them how to communicate and manage their emotions.

“After that experience, residents [move into] what we call ‘supportive living’ where they get to practise skills learnt,” Mr Darceuil said.

“So this person might have a job in the community for an hour or more and be supported by one of our mental health support workers. This person would then be able to be supported to cook for themselves, to have friends over, and engage in [recreational activities] where before they could not have because of their acute mental illness.”

Clients then graduate to “independent living” where they “can reside alone in a one-bedroom or studio apartment”.

“Support is withdrawn slowly,” Mr Darceuil said. “This person would be able to get the confidence they need to go back home and live a fulfilling life in the community.”

Patients can be referred by doctors or family members or can sign up for the programme on their own. The length of their involvement depends on “how quickly they move or benefit from the programme”.

“When we see growth and confidence, we move a person on to more independence in their living,” Mr Darceuil said.

The full cost is not covered by insurance at the moment. The Darceuils are hoping that will soon change because local insurers do pay for full coverage at residential programmes overseas.

“If the person has insurance, the insurance will pay for the professional services – the psychiatrists, the psychologists, the counsellors and then there's the facility fee that the person would have to pay out of pocket,” said Mrs Darceuil.

“It’s possible it’s because [Dignity House] is new. We believe that eventually what's being offered here on the island will be valued and people will take advantage of the service. People with insurance may have to lobby for themselves to be treated at home.”

The couple decided to branch out into private practice because they were concerned by “what life was like from the client's experience”.

“The tears, the rejection and the challenges of not finding a suitable place for a person to live and be rehabilitated,” Mr Darceuil said. “We were moved to try and really make a difference.”

His wife found it “very upsetting” that she was unable to help a client because the needed services did not exist here.

“My husband had some experience with rehabilitation in the UK and he believed that this programme that he had actually worked in would work here. Initially, I said I didn't think so. But then after I saw my client suffering on the street I said, you know what, maybe this can work. So we prayed about it and we started looking around for a facility that would meet the needs of people. And we found one. And so here we are.

“But for the grace of God, go any of us. Any one of us might need an acute care, mental health setting. We are here to help families. We are here to support persons with mental health challenges. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Being of sound mind and good mental health assists our community in many positive ways.”

They opened the doors to Dignity House on March 17 and have been pleased with the response from clients.

Dignity House, “a lifesaver”

Families have praised the work of Kim and Nicholas Darceuil, husband and wife nurses who opened Dignity House in March.

All have asked to remain anonymous to protect the identity of the person receiving treatment. One person said the residential mental health facility had been “a lifesaver” for his family member.

Another person described it as “a promising and positive alternative to what is currently offered in Bermuda – institutionalisation or nothing”.

“I found Nicholas and the team to be able to quickly understand the complex issues for which my child needed help,” said another person. “They demonstrated a compassionate and professional approach …”

Their hope is that it will be granted charitable status.

“We don't want to see anyone not have assistance because they can't afford to pay for it,” Mrs Darceuil said.

An outpatient programme is in the works for people who are stressed by challenges and need to speak with a counsellor.

“If someone in the community needs occupational assessment we can also provide that, if they need to speak to a psychiatrist, we can provide that as well,” Mr Darceuil said. “We diversified our programme to meet more of the community's needs. A person may not need residential treatment. They can come and learn DBT, and learn how to manage their stress from 9am to 12pm on weekdays. Sometimes a person may just need coaching.”

They came up with the name Dignity House mindful of the challenges that people with mental disorders sometimes face.

“Dignity stands for rehabilitation, it stands for getting back your life, it stands for living to your best ability,” Mr Darceuil said. “Our watchwords are restore, improve and empower. These are our watchwords because in our hearts, this is what we think. Everyone with mental health challenges can have their life restored, their life can be improved and they can be empowered by living to the best of their ability.”

For more information: 333-6095; rie@dignityhousebm.com; www.dignityhousebm.com

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Published June 30, 2022 at 8:03 am (Updated July 01, 2022 at 8:30 am)

Giving dignity to people with mental illness

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