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Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry: A PsychStar perspective

Perusing the Royal College of Psychiatrists website, I stumbled upon the faculty page for 'Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry'.


I had never heard of this subspecialty before but quickly became excited when I realised it sounded right up my alley. As a medical student with a background in anthropology and psychology, I have a particular interest in the broader social, economic, political, and cultural factors that influence mental well-being. 'Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry' closely aligns with this; encompassing a holistic approach to mental health care, with emphasis on the importance of social support systems, community integration, and recovery-oriented practices.


Rehabilitation and social psychiatry focuses on aiding individuals with severe mental health issues, such as treatment-resistant psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Often, the symptoms and co-morbidities/co-existence of multiple of these disorders can make daily activities and social interactions harder, leading to isolation.


However, this is where mental health rehabilitation services come in.


Rehabilitation services are delivered by multidisciplinary teams and provide a range of interventions. These include medication management, psychological and occupational therapy, family support, and educational, leisure, and vocational opportunities. These services aim to provide hope to these individuals by equipping them with the skills, support, and confidence needed for successful community participation. Despite high ongoing support needs, research shows these services facilitate successful hospital discharge and community progression, reducing inpatient service use and care costs.


To learn more about my interest in rehabilitation psychiatry, I applied to the Royal College of Psychiatry’s ‘Psych Star’ scheme, which provides mentorship, funding, and resources to medical students interested in psychiatry. I was chuffed to learn that my application was successful and that I was attached specifically to the Faculty of Rehabilitation and Social Psychiatry. For the rest of this article, I will discuss what I have been doing during my time as a Psych Star.


I am writing this on the flight back from a trip to Budapest with four of my Psych Star peers. Using our funding, we decided to attend the European Psychiatric Association’s annual congress. This was a fantastic opportunity to hear about current research, and psychiatrists from across the world shared insights into their successes and challenges. I was particularly interested to hear about how different countries are approaching suicide prevention, refugee mental health, unemployment, and childhood trauma.

Lauren at the European Congress of Psychiatry Conference

Spending time with my fellow Psych Stars was one of the best parts of attending the conference. We spent most of the day crying from laughter at our feeble attempts to navigate the realms of ‘networking.’ Pumped on the delicious free coffee, we got involved in heated debates and fangirled over our psychiatry heroes. It was particularly exciting to meet with Dr Lade Smith, the current president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She reminded us that we are each other’s future professional networks and that we should stay true to our ideals throughout our careers.

 

Aside from the European Psychiatric Association’s annual congress, the Psych Star scheme has also allowed me to attend other brilliant events. Notably, I was funded to go to the Rehabilitation and Social Faculty Conference in Leeds. Additionally, as part of the scheme, I was assigned two mentors from the faculty who I meet with virtually every month. They have provided invaluable support and have given me an insight into the everyday life of a consultant in rehabilitation psychiatry.

Lauren at the UCL Reimagining Psychiatry Conference

At the Leeds conference, I was able to meet my mentors in person, which was a very welcome change from Microsoft Teams. One of my mentors kindly let me co-lead a workshop at the conference, focusing on what rehabilitation psychiatrists need to know about sustainability. The conference gave me a helpful overview of the current approaches to rehabilitation in the UK, as well as future challenges for the speciality. For example, I learned about areas of psychiatric research that I am less familiar with, including the role of peer support and the significance of environmental factors, such as noise and light, in creating a rehabilitative environment that is conducive to recovery. Some of the conference speakers were service users themselves. Their insight was invaluable and served as a pertinent reminder of the complexities of mental health and the importance of rehabilitation.


The conference also provided a fantastic chance to meet with leading professionals in the field. This initial meeting has led to meaningful connections. As Co-Chair of University College London’s Psychiatry Society, I was able to use this network to host my university’s first student psychiatry conference. I have also started working with some of the conference speakers on a research project focused on the current state of community rehabilitation service provision.

 

In June, my Psych Star cohort will attend the Royal College of Psychiatry’s International Congress in Edinburgh. As part of the Psych Star programme, I have been researching homeless health and medical education. Having worked for years with people experiencing homelessness, I am extremely passionate about this topic and will present some of my research at the International Congress. I am also excited to hear more about the other Psych Stars’ projects and how they have found the scheme.

A group of Psych Stars at the European Congress of Psychiatry

Overall, the Psych Star programme has been an incomparable and invaluable opportunity, and I would highly recommend applying if you are a medical student interested in psychiatry. The scheme allowed me to meet like-minded individuals, talk to service users, receive mentorship, and learn about national and international best practices and future challenges.


Spending time with rehabilitation psychiatrists has reminded me of the importance of treating each service user as a whole person, paying attention to the wider context in which they exist, and working to create an inclusive and safe environment that supports recovery. My time as a Psych Star will undoubtedly shape my future practice and has solidified my passion for mental health and social inclusion.

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