Mental health patients in western Sydney dressed for success in new free clothing initiative

Blacktown Mental Health B22 Keith closet. Left to right: Rosa Gamez (Social Worker), Daphne Pereira (Hospital Assistant), Sivagami Venkatesan (Reg Nurse)

Introducing Keith’s Closet to Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

It’s a clothing storage and fitting room contained within a mental health ward at Blacktown Inpatient Mental Health Services. 

This important room is for the benefit of patients who present for treatment without adequate clothing or shoes. 

Occupational Therapist, Yi Jean Chew, said the closet “offers improved sense of self-worth and a feeling of being valued”.

Keith’s Closet is not as much about fashion as it is about maintaining a person’s dignity with Yi Jean adding “imagine arriving into an unfamiliar setting where you likely do not know anyone and you might not have family or friends who can bring in clothing and essentials”. 

“Clean clothing goes a long way towards the improvement of one’s mental health and it goes without saying that we have many happy recipients of gifts from the closet.” 

Keith’s Closet stocks a range of donated clothing either from staff or consumers and recently the closet benefited when it received a large donation from Big W via Professor Zelas, the Better Foundation and Good360 who facilitated the donation.

Any patient can access clothing from Keith’s Closet as needed.

“There’s no fussy protocol relating to the acquisition of clothing by patients – if there is a need – we will strive to help provide what can be provided, so that a sense of safety in an unfamiliar environment can be nurtured,” Yi Jean said.

Rosa Garcia Gamez is a social worker in an Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Unit at Blacktown Hospital and echoed Yi Jean’s sentiments.

“The importance of having access to clothes is about the basic human rights of dignity and respect no matter where you have been or where you come from,” Rosa said. 

There is a stigma attached to mental health and many of our patients/consumers often do not have access to opportunities and resources.  Having access to clothes means that you are less likely to feel marginalised and it is great for their self-esteem while in hospital.”

Rosa Garcia Gamez

Blacktown Inpatient Mental Health Services embraced the concept of Keith’s Closet from the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District’s Kiloh Centre and is the brainchild of Keith Donnelly, a community mental health nurse with the Kiloh Centre. 

Staff work collaboratively to maintain Keith’s Closet and this includes nursing and allied health staff as well as domestic staff.

Rosa is inspired daily by the success of the closet saying “I have seen smiles on the patient’s faces and I have seen staff smile when they see someone who had been wearing the same clothes for days at a time”.

“That look of awe and happiness that radiates through when they have new clothes is the silver lining.”