Western Sydney chaplain spreads message of hope to mental health patients during COVID-19

Hope. A four-letter word that highlights the want for a better future and something that Cumberland Hospital chaplain Colin Ward has instilled in mental health patients since the day he arrived.

Colin has been working at Cumberland Hospital since 2016 and reflects that COVID-19 and the most recent outbreak in NSW has had an immense impact on him and his fellow colleagues.

“People are rattled. There is a tiny little thing that people can’t see that has transformed our world,” Colin said.

“They feel like they are not as in control as they normally would be. This makes them question their meaning and purpose; it can make them question their faith and hope.

“If I can listen and even make the slightest of difference in their wellbeing, then I have done a good thing.”

In psychiatric care, where patients experience a wide range of difficulties, spiritual support can allow a patient to reconnect with faith and hope.

For those experiencing acute or enduring mental health problems, a chaplain can provide comfort and reassurance, help them stay connected to what is important to them spiritually and help people to come to terms with the particular challenges they are facing.

Having faced his own family’s experience with mental health, Colin reassures patients that he will not tell them what to do or how to feel but rather sit and listen.

“When you are struggling, the last thing you want is the be told what to do,” he said.

“In chaplaincy, we are not above people, rather alongside them. It is very much about person-to-person, face-to-face, heart-to-heart.

“I feel privileged that when people are at rock bottom, they feel like they can talk to me and be their raw, authentic self.”

Colin said that throughout his years at Cumberland Hospital, the relationship between spiritual care and total wellbeing is abundantly clear.

“We have a very spiritually aware population in western Sydney. Most of the patients admitted to our care have some level of faith from a whole variety of religions and backgrounds,” Colin explained.

“For that reason, we need to think about the whole person, not just their physical or mental health.”

“Hope is such a powerful thing. Hope is something solid in the future that you can hang on to. You have to feed that hope with positivity and the idea of a future rather than your fear and negativity in the present,” he said.

“For me, my faith and hope are solid in Jesus. I know it is different for different people but that is definitely what keeps me grounded”

“Chaplains are not clinical people. We don’t know a patient’s diagnosis when they see us, and I love that. We can more easily see them as a person, not a patient with an illness. They are constantly inspiring us.

“There are people here who are living with mental illness day in and day out – but they have amazing strength of faith and hope.

The Cumberland Hospital chaplain has also been running weekly virtual prayer sessions for staff, allowing them to come together and refocus.

“We have been supporting the mental health and wellbeing of western Sydney staff and patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is more than a job to us. It is an absolute privilege.”

Western Sydney Local Health District’s utmost priority is the safety of our patients and staff.

Acute mental health care continues to be available to our community members. A list of support services in western Sydney can be found here.