Mindfulness helps OSH patients recover from mental illness
Patients at Oregon State Hospital are using some age-old philosophies and practices to stay grounded while working toward a healthier future. Mindfulness, once thought to be solely the realm of Eastern religions and the counterculture, is now recognized as an effective tool for treating a variety of health issues, including mental illness.
Mental Health Specialist Cary Fairchild (left) leads a yoga class at OSH. Yoga is just one of several mindfulness-based activities the hospital is using to help patients work toward recovery.
"I have come [to group] with migraines; I've come with my body out of whack, and I'm able to realign myself - physically and mentally - and leave feeling a whole lot better," said patient Tyehimba Yafeu.
As OSH continues its efforts to provide high-quality care designed to meet the unique needs of individual patients, mindfulness is an important treatment option for patients like Yafeu. More and more, mindfulness groups and activities are becoming an integral part of treatment.
The hospital offers patients a wide range of mindfulness activities like yoga, meditation, tai chi and Pilates, as well as classes that incorporate mindfulness techniques into everyday life, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, relapse prevention for addictive behavior and daily living.
What is mindfulness?
Depending on whom you ask, mindfulness can be defined in several ways, but at the heart of each definition is one deceptively simple-sounding concept – present-moment awareness.
"When we focus on the past, we tend to dwell on things we can't change, which increases depressive-type symptoms. When we're more future-oriented, we have more anxiety-type symptoms and worry about things we can't do anything about yet," said OSH psychologist Andrew Weitzman, Psy.D. "With mindfulness, you learn to accept the present moment and the way things are in that moment instead of focusing on how you want them to be."
Because our brains are constantly moving from one thing to the next, this is not as easy as it may sound. But with time and practice, patients gain increased control over their emotions, develop empathy and learn to manage their stress, pain, fear and anxiety. Best of all, mindfulness techniques can be used in any situation or setting.
"It's a Swiss army knife type of skill," Weitzman said "Whatever you're doing, mindfulness can make it that much more effective and improve your quality of life."
Through regular practice of mindfulness techniques, patient Kimberly Murphy recently took a major step forward in her treatment.
"I've gotten to the point that they took me off my medication a couple weeks ago to see how well I can use what I've learned to deal with my mental illness," Murphy said. "So far, it's going really good."
While not every patient can get to this point, mental health specialist and yoga instructor Cary Fairchild said those committed to adopting mindfulness practices as part of their life will become more resilient and well-adjusted people.
"You learn to let things come and go, because the struggle and suffering actually comes from grasping after pleasure and pushing away pain," Fairchild said. "When patients learn these skills, it's amazing and can actually lead to a big transformation in their life."