Nail painting a key self-care ritual at one of Australia’s busiest mental health service providers
‘A manicure kit is basically a sensory modulation kit! Consumers engage most of their senses when doing their nails – sight, smell, movement, touch. It’s a simple tool but so effective.’
- St Vincent’s Inpatient Mental Health Peer Worker Kat Fry on the sensory modulation benefits of manicures
Have you ever noticed how soothing painting your nails can be? The world seems to slow down for a few minutes and all the outside noise and busyness in your mind fades aways as we hyper-focus on getting the perfect stroke… over… and over… and over again.
Treating ourselves to a manicure is a fantastic form of mindfulness and a really simple way to support good mental health and our sense of wellbeing.
Oh Flossy recently had the pleasure of collaborating with the wonderful team at Caritas - the 27 bed mental health unit in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Public Hospital – to provide their self-care group with supplies of our ‘not just pretty’ nail polish range.
Based in Darlinghurst, with some of the country’s highest levels of urban social disadvantage, characterised by homelessness, chronic mental illness, substance misuse and other complex general health needs, Caritas’ team of psychiatrists, nurses and allied health professionals work tirelessly to provide safe, inclusive, and recovery-orientated care for anyone who comes through their door. The self-care group at Caritas meets a few times a week where patients and staff engage in facemasks, manicures, and hair treatments together.
The self-care team at Caritas in action
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Kat Fry from Caritas to find out about how they are using manicures to support sensory modulation and form meaningful connections with their patients. We also talk about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions and how it has highlighted the important self-care and mindfulness for everyone.
Hi Kat! Thanks for your time. Can you tell us a bit about the work you do at St Vincent’s?
Sure! I am the peer worker for Caritas, an inpatient mental health ward within St Vincent’s Public Hospital, Sydney - the busiest psychiatric ward in the state last time I checked!
Caritas is part of our larger Mental Health Service. We also have Homeless Health, Community Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, PEIPOD, Older Person’s Mental Health and many more.
As a peer worker, I have lived experience of mental health crisis and my job is based around ensuring care is tailored to the individual consumers wants, needs and goals. This means I spend my day providing psychosocial support, advocating for our consumers and implementing groups and projects that I feel would improve their experience. Recently I have been reaching out to brands, like Oh Flossy, to provide some goodies to our consumers and this has made such a difference to both our group and individual offerings.
What has been the most challenging part of delivering mental health care during the pandemic?
The pandemic has really challenged all of us - hospital worker or not. There has been a huge rise in mental health issues over the past two years. Of course, healthcare workers have had a lot of extra pressure. There are the obvious challenges - the sweaty PPE and mask-acne, the unrelenting COVID waves and just being in a state of constant vigilance to protect the community. None of this is good for the adrenal system!
But, if I had to single out the biggest challenge, it would be enforcing COVID safety precautions. Throughout the pandemic we have had times where consumers were not allowed visitors, no group activities and at times were isolated to their rooms if there was a covid positive patient on the ward. It was gut wrenching, even though I knew it to be necessary to protect them.
We aim to provide least restrictive care, but COVID really threw a spanner in the mix. It can also be hard to build a relationship with consumers when you are dressed like a minion-alien in a HAZMAT suit.
Tell us a bit about the self-care group that was established
Self-care is so important - I think most of the population could agree that it feels good to pamper yourself. We have a weekly self-care group on Tuesdays. We start with some mindfulness meditation before we whip out the sheet masks, manicure kits and hair treatments. Although, I think the most beautiful part of the group is the conversations and relationship building between consumers and staff.
‘It’s such an organic way to get to know someone. It feels like an authentic conversation - not an interrogation, which some mental health assessments can definitely feel like.’
Everyone has got involved! It’s amazing to see little micro trends going around the ward such as black nails, ring finger painted different colour and nail art.
We would love to hear about how manicures specifically helped your patients regulate their emotions
We have utilised the manicure kits to help de-escalate and re-direct patients who have become unsettled or who have just heard bad news.
It gives them something to focus on, which in turn slows their breathing and regulates their emotions. It takes quite some time to do a full-service manicure and that time is all people really need. For example, if a consumer was very upset at a family member for having taken them to hospital and wanted to call them, I would suggest we do our nails first.
That time, and the conversation during, would almost always change the way the consumer was thinking about the situation.
We often hear about using sensory activities to help children regulate their emotions but how important is it for adults to practise self-care strategies to support good mental health?
Sensory modulation for adults is often less formal than with kids, but it’s still just as important! Most adults with self-care strategies are often blissfully unaware that their swim in the ocean, cooking and eating their favourite meal or their pamper session is actually sensory modulation.
Sensory modulation involves using senses such as sight, sounds, smells, touch, taste and movement to self- manage and regulate emotions.
Examples of sensory modulation that we use in Caritas, and that you can use at home, include:
- Essential oils
- Weighted blankets
- Stress balls
- Massage chairs
- Manicure and pamper kits
- Colouring in
- Sour lollies
How important is the support of businesses in the community like Oh Flossy to the work that you do?
Absolutely integral. St Vincent’s was founded by The Sisters of Charity in 1857 and ever since we have relied on generosity of people and businesses to provide world class care. In our founding years, without this generosity, I’m not sure how the most vulnerable patients would have been able to access health care. To this day it still elevates our service and provisions to world class. It is such a morale boost for both consumers and staff when the resources are donated altruistically, rather than just being supplied by the hospital. Cue the warm fuzzies!
We absolutely do have the warm and fuzzies. Thanks for sharing, Kat. And thanks for the amazing work you and the team at Caritas do. We spend time nail painting and doing make-up as a calming activity with the little ones in our world when the day starts to feel a bit hectic, and we often have some great conversations in the process. It is so amazing to see that is the experience of others, too, and that our products are making such a real and tangible difference in the community!