2010 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development ABSTRACT
The use of information technology to connect residents with mental illness and their families – A report of a psychiatric half-way house
Family support has been regarded as crucial to one’s rehabilitation journey and it is particularly so for Chinese people with severe mental illness, discharged from inpatient service. For these people, returning home right away is not always possible and many of them applied to reside in psychiatric half-way home for a year or two before they make the next move to independent living or family reunion. For different reasons, the connection between the resident and family is much weaker than expected. An intra-hostel survey showed that out of the 42 residents in 2007, 38% of them had no contact with their families. Less than half (41%) of the residents only maintained sporadic contact and only one-fifth (21%) received family visit in the past three months. To tackle this problem and to reconnect their beloved ones, and with the support from a foundation fund, the hostel implemented the Net Zone project for its residents. IT facilities and training were provided to the residents who could now maintain regular contact with their family through webcam. This paper reports the general effectiveness of the project, with case illustrations. Among other positive outcomes, it has been identified that this informal reunion was considered less threatening especially in cases where previous mental breakdown caused annoyance or even violence to family members. In general, the connection proved to be effective in facilitating their social interaction and interestingly, some users on both side thought they were now more able to express their heart-felt words than previously facing the other. Reportedly, relations and trust were rebuilt gradually.