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Mental Health Awareness Week: Therapy chickens help to calm psychiatric patients and staff at Littlebrook Hospital in Dartford

A mental health hospital has been harnessing the calming effect of chickens as it shares its experiences of coping with the demands of lockdown.

Staff at Littlebrook Hospital in Dartford have documented their own struggles as part of a video for Mental Health Awareness Week.

Watch the team at Littlebrook Hospital discuss how they are championing mental health

It was put together by filmmaker Adam Tait who volunteered his time for free to help show how the psychiatric unit had been championing self care among its patients and staff.

Tips included trying to learn a new skill, cooking and minimising the amount of news you are consuming.

The hospital has also been making use of so-called "therapy chickens" which they say is having a calming effect on many of the patients.

Chicken therapy has been used widely with autistic children to help them build trust with animals but has also been deployed as a therapeutic tool in care settings for people struggling from anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness.

Occupational therapy team manager Natalie Boorman believes caring for hens every day can reap massive rewards for people's mental health.

Therapy chickens are used in care settings to help patients with emotional difficulties Photo: KMPT/Youtube
Therapy chickens are used in care settings to help patients with emotional difficulties Photo: KMPT/Youtube

"Chickens are a source of great emotional support to those experiencing mental illness," she said.

"They are incredibly calming and therapeutic to simply sit with. They have amazing personalities too – and are also at times very comical."

She added that caring for and feeding the chickens could often give people a sense of purpose and routine, both of which is essential to recovery.

Patients also work with the staff to check the eggs hens lay.

It's not just the patients who have been benefitting from the therapy chicks, according to ward manager Daniel Jones.

The 34-year-old said: "I see staff members go out there on their lunch breaks.

Therapy chickens are being used to ease the anxiety of patients Photo: KMPT/Youtube
Therapy chickens are being used to ease the anxiety of patients Photo: KMPT/Youtube

"It is a peaceful environment surrounded by chaos – it is nice for them as well as the patients."

The hospital, which is run by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, has also been sharing staff stories as part of its bid to champion better mental health.

This includes 21-year-old Nina Hall who works as a peer support worker where she draws on her own experiences of mental health struggles to help patients.

In the video, she recounts the warning signs of racing thoughts and feeling more irritable than usual.

She also shares coping mechanisms such as using guided meditation apps to help switch off and relax before going to sleep.

"I hope by talking about my experiences it has helped people to know they are not alone," she said.

The team at Littlebrook Hospital has been sharing their stories as part of mental health awareness week Photo: KMPT
The team at Littlebrook Hospital has been sharing their stories as part of mental health awareness week Photo: KMPT

"Creating this video brought the team together at Littlebrook and really opened up important conversations about our own mental health."

Deputy ward manager and mental health nurse Nathan Vasudaven, 28, said the team had a lot of fun making the short film.

He added: "The video gave us as mental health staff the opportunity to reach a wider audience than just our patients on the wards with advice around looking after yourself and others."

Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 18-24 and this year's theme is kindness.

For more stories, resources and help visit the Mental Health Foundation website.

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