Promoting Intellectual Engagement and Well-being at a Psychiatry Facility

In May 2023, OAD Fellow Dominic Vertue organised a series of educational sessions at the Community Mental Health and Psychiatry Foundation (CMHPF) in Cape Town, South Africa, as part of the Astronomy for Mental Health project. The primary goal was to stimulate intellectual engagement while contributing to overall well-being using astronomy. The sessions used a diverse range of video content, from beginner’s astronomy to topics geared toward high school-level knowledge. The participants were residents at CMHPF diagnosed with psychiatric conditions, who required full-time care.
The sessions took place at House Bowker, the CMHPF’s Frail Care Center, and House Sonop. Additional residents from other CMHPF facilities were transported in, ensuring their ability to partake in the sessions. The demographic was diverse, with participants ages spanning from 23 to 83 years.
The videos were played in the Television Rooms within the host facility using basic AV equipment: a projector, speakers, and a screen. Each session comprised roughly 30 minutes of video content, followed by a half-hour of discourse and discussion. The discussion was moderated as we had to ensure that we do not move into discussions that might cause some of the participant’s delusions to be triggered.
Designed to be inclusive, these sessions were accessible to all residents, promoting a conducive atmosphere for learning. Each session saw an attendance of approximately 50, a figure that varied as attendees were free to join or leave at their convenience. This fluid structure demonstrated the program’s adaptability, accommodating diverse schedules and interests.
Participants’ responses were overwhelmingly positive, marked by active engagement and a desire for further learning. Sessions concluded with expressions of gratitude and a call for similar future programs. Additionally, each session incorporated a segment for questions and answers, stimulating further intellectual discourse.
Evaluations conducted after the sessions, with both participants and staff members, indicated that this objective was successfully met. The informative content not only provided practical information but also engendered a sense of achievement among the attendees, some of whom seized the opportunity to share their own knowledge and experiences.
The evaluation was done through random interviews asking the following questions:

  1. How did you find the session?
  2. What stood out for you?
  3. How did you feel after seeing the videos?
  4. Would you like to see other video material?

Given the success of these video sessions, future activities are under consideration. There is an intent to explore diverse evaluation methods for assessing the effectiveness of such programs. Robust assessment methodologies are to be utilized to appraise the long-term impact of these sessions, helping to refine and tailor future initiatives to the evolving needs of the community.

In conclusion, the video sessions hosted at CMHPF in May 2023 left a memorable impression on the participants. These initiatives demonstrated the potential of educational activities in promoting intellectual engagement and enhancing community well-being. Plans are in place to build on this success, with a focus on delivering transformative experiences that exert a lasting positive influence on the community.
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The series showcased the following videos: