WeAreTheWorld Blogfest: A Change of Clothes Can Change the Mind

For the apparel oft proclaims the man

Said Shakespeare so perspicaciously – and we all know its true. Just about all of us, either when feeling slightly low or deeply depressed, reach for a different outfit or look to add an uplifting touch to our wardrobe. That’s why I love this good news story about ditching the dreadful hospital gown and choosing a new, free set of clothes for patients who are most in need.

Free clothes at Keith’s Closet allow psychiatric ward patients to say goodbye to hospital gowns

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When Susan arrived at hospital, she came without a spare set of clothes — ordinarily, she would be required to wear a hospital gown.

But a clothing support service, based in the psychiatric ward at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital, is changing this by ensuring all clients have access to free, clean clothing of their choice.

“I’ve used Keith’s Closet before, and it’s something really positive,” Susan said.

“It used to be a seclusion room, and it’s now changed into a change room with clothes, and if people come with no clothes — which I have once before — we can pick things out and it gives us a bit of dignity.”

Keith’s Closet opened early this year at the hospital’s Kiloh Centre and has since provided hundreds of clients with dresses, sportswear, suits, jeans, shorts, high heels, runners and sandals.

Sat between patient rooms is the walk-in wardrobe, fit with full-length mirrors and a fitting room like those you might see in a suburban boutique.

“A lot of our clients are involuntary,” said clinical nurse specialist Keith Donnelly, the man behind the service.

“They could be picked up on the streets of Sydney, they may not have any next of kin or family, and as a result of that they can come in with no supportive clothing.

“[Before Keith’s Closet] we might have [given clients] some clothing that might have been left here by other clients … or they might just have some sort of robe to wear at times, which isn’t the way forward at all.

“I wanted to change that.”

Donated clothing

The clothing stocked in Keith’s Closet is donated from staff, local sporting teams and the public.

Clients are taken into the wardrobe by their nurse, who helps them choose items they like.

Not only did it help to build rapport between clinician and patient, Mr Donnelly said, but it also lifted the feeling of the ward.

“The impact has been absolutely incredible,” he said.

“I’m extremely proud that our clients are getting so much joy out of it, and it makes a significant impact with rapport as well with the doctors and the nursing staff.

“The whole focus isn’t just on medication and they instantly feel good and their mental state will definitely improve, as we’ve seen.”

Mr Donnelly said the best story he had heard about the service focused on a striking three-piece suit.

“I got the most amazing mustard-coloured suit that I’d matched with a shirt and tie and brown shoes and belt.

“Lo and behold about a day after that, I was walking up the corridor and I genuinely nearly fell over.

“One of our clients who came in with nothing, he was in the suit and he looked a million dollars — no exaggeration.

“To make it even better, he was approached by three or four clients and asked if they could be discharged because they mistook him for a psychiatrist.”

After such a strong response, Mr Donnelly said he believed a clothing support service like this should be introduced into mental health services across the country.

“It’s not costing the service anything, but the difference it makes to the clients is taking them to a new and better place.”

18 thoughts on “WeAreTheWorld Blogfest: A Change of Clothes Can Change the Mind

  1. Thank you for this heart warming story Kate. How wonderful that Keith’s idea made such a difference
    to the patients lives. In fact, don’t we all feel uplifted when we know we dressed well.
    The response to colour and shape is quite natural.

    Miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really a wonderful initiative. Kudos to Keith’s Closet for understanding that all humans want dignity and that these patients can have that with a fresh set of clothes. Thanks for bringing this story to #WATWB.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Kate – what an amazing idea … and yes I can see it’d help both patients and clinicians … Keith’s Closet should inspire other hospitals … I’ll pass it on to two new clinicians … when I see them. When my mother was terminally ill – I had gowns which opened at the back … no neck or arms to go through … made it so much easier for her, and for the carers/nurses … as well as having something pretty to look at – rather than a gown. Great idea – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

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