IMH patient-run cafe aims to aid return to society

Madam Malliga working at the Sedap Cafe at the Institute of Mental Health. The 62-year-old, who has schizophrenia, has been a patient there since 2011. The cafe, which was opened by Punggol East MP Charles Chong yesterday, is currently run by six IMH
Madam Malliga working at the Sedap Cafe at the Institute of Mental Health. The 62-year-old, who has schizophrenia, has been a patient there since 2011. The cafe, which was opened by Punggol East MP Charles Chong yesterday, is currently run by six IMH staff and three patients, including Madam Malliga, all of whom are long-stay patients.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Those with potential undergo training on work and life skills

It is lunchtime and Madam Malliga is bustling about serving hot bowls of laksa and mee rebus to customers.

But Sedap Cafe, where she works, is no ordinary eatery.

It is located in one of the wards at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where the 62-year-old, who has schizophrenia, has been a patient since 2011.

The cafe, which was opened by Punggol East MP Charles Chong yesterday, is currently run by six IMH staff and three patients, including Madam Malliga, all of whom are long-stay patients.

Such patients stay in IMH for over a year, with some remaining there for up to 20 years, said senior nurse clinician Aziz Abdul Hamed.

In 2015, patients in this category were regrouped into various categories based on their ability levels, as part of efforts to design specialised programmes tailored to their needs.

Those with a good potential for rehabilitation, such as Madam Malliga, undergo a slow-stream rehabilitation programme that aims to help them regain their confidence, improve their functioning and independent living skills, gain employment and eventually reintegrate into the larger community.

Aside from working in the cafe, patients can also learn to make and sell products, participate in gardening activities, and even undergo vocational training to take on simple jobs as part of IMH's kitchen and cleaning crews.

Mr Aziz, who oversees the programme, said: "We want to start to build their resilience by starting them on part-time work."

He added that more than 60 long-stay patients have been discharged since the scheme started in 2015.

The cafe will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to noon, and will serve only IMH staff and patients.

Patients running the cafe need to first pass a Workforce Skills Qualifications course, and undergo further training and guidance on the days they are not working. They are paid a token sum for their work.

And the training appears to have paid off. Madam Malliga, who previously did not know how to cook, now helps to prepare laksa, mee siam, lava cakes and bean curd.

"I am happy to see my friends at the cafe. I am very happy, very thankful," she said.

An IMH spokesman said there is potential for more patients to work at the cafe after they are trained.

The cafe was opened on the sidelines of a mental health carnival held at the IMH campus yesterday.

Attended by more than 1,000 members of the public, the carnival focused on the theme of therapy and rehabilitation, allowing visitors to experience various therapeutic activities, such as music and art therapy, and horticulture activities.

INTERACTION IS VITAL

Patients are part of the community, and the community is a part of them... The more interaction the public has with them, the better the understanding will be.

PUNGGOL EAST MP CHARLES CHONG, on patients with mental health problems.

There were also workshops on dealing with mental health issues.

Student Denyse Chua, 12, said: "It's fun interacting with the patients here and it's not bad talking to them and hearing about their experiences."

Mr Chong told The Sunday Times that there are still a lot of misconceptions about mental health issues, and events such as the carnival can help to dispel the stigma.

"Patients are part of the community, and the community is a part of them... The more interaction the public has with them, the better the understanding will be," he said.

He added: "When the day comes that there's completely no stigma against mental health issues, that will be a good day."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 27, 2019, with the headline 'IMH patient-run cafe aims to aid return to society'. Print Edition | Subscribe