New relaxation space for mental health patients

After years of campaigning and hard work from a variety of community groups the youth mental health unit at Campbelltown has received a much-needed spruce up.

Birunji, at the Campbelltown Hospital precinct, is now home to a zen garden, which not only looks good but also helps with patient recovery.

The 20-bed facility is filled year round with patients aged 18-30 who are suffering from mental health issues.

Local charity Beautiful Minds, run by 2016 NSW Senior Volunteer of the Year Sandra McDonald, has been fundraising and campaigning to create stimulating and engaging additions at the unit – which Mrs McDonald has previously described as “barren” and “empty” – for years.

Birunji’s senior occupational therapist Amy Wilson said the zen garden would not have come to fruition without the hard work of Beautiful Minds volunteers.

“I’m so grateful for the collaboration with Beautiful Minds and the other community groups they have introduced us to along the way,” Ms Wilson said.

“None of this would have been possible without them.”

Beautiful Minds volunteers made arrangements for students and staff at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School to paint a lovely koi fish mural on the garden wall, which was made of corrugated iron.

The base coat of paint was completed by youths from Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre at Airds and the whole mural project was funded by Wests League Club at Leumeah.

A wooden table in the garden was donated by the folks at the Airds/Bradbury Men’s Shed while a local landscaper also worked on the design of the garden.

Ms Wilson said the collaborative effort of all these community groups was making a genuine difference to patients.

“The zen garden provides a place for mindful reflection and relaxation,” she said.

“People can appreciate the beauty of the garden and the sunshine outdoors.

“There is also a lot for the patients to do, including raking the lovely Japanese rock garden, weeding and general gardening.

“All of this helps the patients in their recovery process.”

Ms Wilson said South West Sydney Health District staff ran focus groups with current and former Birunji patients and their carers and families to determine exactly what sorts of upgrades they’d like to see at the centre.

The focus groups selected a sporting area – which is almost complete – and the zen garden as their top two requests.

Mrs McDonald said it was “wonderful” to have the patients so involved in the process.

“Too often things happen to patients at mental health units, not with them,” she said.

“But here they’ve told us what they wanted and we were able to deliver it.”

Mrs McDonald said she was immensely proud to see the zen garden come to life.

“The thing I’m proudest of is the community collaboration that went into this project,” she said.

“It touches your heart to see how much difference something like this makes to the patients, staff and families – it feels great.”

Mrs McDonald would like to see similar gardens and engaging spaces introduced at Birunji’s neighbouring mental health unit Gna Ka Lun (the adolescent facility) in the near future.

She said Beautiful Minds was working with the health district to make progress in that unit.

“Our dream is to have organisations like Beautiful Minds attached to all acute mental health units across Australia,” she said.

“That is the only way we’re going to make change.

“If we don’t do it, who will?”


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