Dr Sushie Dobinson, previously Head of Linguistics at York St John University, is now a Speech Therapist at The Humber Centre, a medium secure hospital near Hull. Part of her work is concerned with the production of Streamlines magazine, a forum and outlet for patient news, activities and creative expression and which would justifiably be labelled ‘outsider art’, but which is also a way of encouraging patients to understand their life through creative activity.
Sushie explains the aim and purpose of the magazine –
“Streamlines is the patient magazine at the Humber Centre for Forensic Psychiatry and Learning Disabilities. All the content is the patients’ own but is subject to editing and, in a few cases, somewhat heavier reworking. Patients vary as to their abilities and sometimes need help to express their ideas. We try to keep the editorial touch light, and in all cases endeavour to let the work speak for itself as much as possible.
I’ve worked as a Forensic Speech and Language Therapist at the Humber Centre since 2007. Prior to that I worked as a Linguistics lecturer for 15 years in various universities, including York St John where I was based in the Language Studies department between 1997 and 2003.
The Humber Centre is a medium secure hospital which holds 79 patients, all of whom are mentally disordered offenders. Their conditions include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, substance psychosis, autistic spectrum conditions and learning disability. Some of them have come from prison and some have been diverted from the courts before being sentenced. All of our patients are detained indefinitely in hospital under the Mental Health Act. The lack of release date is an important factor in their detention. Some reduction in risk has to be shown before they can be considered for release or a step-down in security. This is not easy work; many of our patients have been in services for years. Social isolation and a lack of self-knowledge are common complicating factors, often setting the context in which the mental illness was first able to take hold. Hope and motivation are easily damaged, thinly distributed, hard to maintain. Without them, rehabilitation and release can seem distant dreams, a theme that consistently crops up in their work.
Given my background in communication, I’ve found it often makes sense to treat forensic mental illness as a disorder of expression and interaction. The social situations in which the patients’ illnesses have emerged have seldom facilitated expressiveness or creativity, being more likely to lead vulnerable people into adopting seriously risky behaviours that can cause problems throughout the community. The freedom to express ideas comes from the social circumstances we find ourselves in as much as culture and background.
Streamlines magazine came about because I felt these patients needed a forum to share their unique experiences and ideas. Having an audience gives people a reason to explore their ideas and feelings and makes a big difference to motivation and feelings of self-worth. Our patients’ perspectives are rarely heard, coming as they do from outside of the usual creative circles. Streamlines is one means by which they are able to connect and have conversations with both their peers and others in a way that is non-confrontational and ‘safe’. I hope you find it interesting.”
For more information on Sushie’s work, Streamlines magazine or to contact Sushie herself please write to A.Clarke@yorksj.ac.uk