Mental health is a term that many people have difficulty defining. In most cases, it is easier to know what mental health is not, rather than knowing what contributes to, what defines the term “mental health.”

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Retrieved from May 4, 2015

Three sentences are devoted to what mental health is, and then there are pages of what mental health is not. There is only one textbook on “normal psychology,” Normal Child and Adolescent Development: A Psychodynamic Primer by Karen J. Gilmore and Pamela Meersand, published in 2013. With this one exception, all the written materials focus on the abnormal, on the absence of mental health rather than its’ presence.

In the Kitsap Sun, a local newspaper in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, there was an article recently published with the headline “Martha & Mary Helps the Elderly.” A better headline would have been “Martha & Mary Fosters Mental Health.” Some background is in order. Martha & Mary, a long term care facility, has a program for people who are elderly and in need of mental health services. Last year, they started a program directed at admitting people affected by mental health disorders and who are elderly and held in the hospital related to their behaviors. Often times these residents would be “bounced” around from various facilities or boarded up in the hospital because of the behaviors they would use. Martha and Mary’s goal is to give these residents a place where they feel safe in the least restrictive environment available to them.

Part of the process of preparing for this was to have two people certified as instructors in The Mandt System®. In the first class they taught, the CEO of Martha & Mary, along with many other senior staff at Mary & Martha were in attendance. This commitment brought to life the four core elements needed to provide a high quality of life for seniors with behavioral health concerns. The core elements identified are:

1) The right environment and milieu for patients
2) The right training for healthcare staff
3) The right programming for behavioral health success
4) The right type of consultative resources on a consistent basis.

The Mandt System was introduced to the staff on the Martha and Mary dementia/behavioral health unit in the fall of 2014. Two day classes were held and continue to be held on an ongoing basis. Training has been provided to nurse managers, nurses, nursing assistants, resident life services, social workers as well as housekeeping and maintenance staff. After each session it was absolutely amazing to see the professional growth of the unit, almost immediately it was obvious that direct care staff felt empowered, they knew that they could make a difference in the lives of the residents that they serve every day. In the past, perhaps, the focus was on the behavior that a resident may display, but after Mandt training, the staff started to look past the behavior and focus on looking at possible unmet needs. They have not only empowered themselves to be the one to ascertain a possible unmet need, they are also encouraging their fellow co-workers to address issues and work together as a team to problem-solve. The pride in their work has been contagious throughout the unit.

Prior to Mandt training, taking care of the more difficult residents seemed to be avoided. However, at this point, there is a sense of pride in knowing that everyone on the unit, regardless of title, can all help manage difficult behaviors. There have been fewer altercations between the residents. Everyone is more aware of potential triggers so behaviors are not happening as frequently. With less focus on the behavior while treating the residents with the dignity and respect that they deserve, they often express how happy they are. There is a resident who has been at Martha and Mary for a few months and her son describes her as never being a happy person due to her own childhood history of abuse. As she has adjusted to being at the facility among fellow residents and staff who treat her each day with dignity and respect, she has shared on a number of occasions, “I am happy today.”

The Mandt System® commitment is to be a partner with organizations to improve the quality of life for all people, and in the article published in the Kitsap Sun, one of the patients told her daughter that the staff at Mary & Martha treated her “like a real person”, and added “I haven’t felt like a real person for a long time.”

The phrases that appear in the manual are brought to life in the day to day interaction at Mary & Martha. Phrases such as:

Supporting people, not just their behavior
Dignity and Respect
A relationship of equals, with a difference of role
In this place, and with these people, I feel safe™

Are more than just words, more than just teaching tools. They reflect the commitment of each person working for the organization. In one training, a participant said “now I know what to call what I have always believed – I can call it Mandt.”

Mental Health is not the absence of clinical symptoms. It is the presence of people who enter into relationships with others and see them as real people. The clinical staff and the direct support staff at Mary & Martha work hard to develop a milieu that supports mental health, and it involves more than Mandt. But Mandt is the foundation upon which everything else is built.

Ben Thomas, RN, BSN, Unit Manager, Behavioral Health Unit – Martha & Mary
Lisa Neyman, BSS, Social Work Clinician, Behavioral Health Unit – Martha & Mary
Bob Bowen, Senior Vice President for Product Development – The Mandt System, Inc.