Providing a dose of normal: Inpatient psychiatry staff go above and beyond

By Francie Williamson, Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Casey Thein, RN, walks over to a cabinet stocked with sprays, elastics, and other hair care products, looking for a straightening iron.

But this isn’t a salon. It’s the inpatient child psychiatric unit at UI Hospitals & Clinics, where Thein has worked for the past three and a half years.

“A lot of us will pick up a styling iron or braid kids’ hair,” Thein says. “It helps them feel better about themselves.”

Thein says that while no one on the unit has a professional background in beauty care, lots of staff members have an interest in beauty products, and they enjoy doing hair in addition to their normal duties.

“I’ve learned a lot of things from the kids as far as beauty tips that they’ve heard about in their magazines,” says Thein.

Braids, beauty, and bonding

Thein’s colleague Nielie Schaeffer, RN, who’s worked in the unit for 21 years, says she braids patients’ hair whenever she has time.

“Everyone enjoys it,” Schaeffer says. “You start with one braid and then everyone else wants one too: including staff.”

Aside from braids and curls, Thein says they will sometimes help patients with makeup and even paint their fingernails. When it’s warm outside, the staff often takes patients outside and gives them pedicures. While some polishes and other products have been purchased through grant funding, Thein says many staff members have purchased items with their own money.

Healing and self-care

Thein says the average stay for patients on the inpatient child psychiatric unit is about five to seven days. But for patients who remain longer, Thein says staff will often take them to the hospital’s Fourth Floor Salon for haircuts and other styling needs.

With an increasing number of patients identifying as transgender, Thein says having their hair or nails done often helps with their therapy.

“One day, we took a transgender male patient to the salon for a haircut,” Thein says. “He left with a completely new look. We were so happy for him. We really felt like it helped him embrace who he is. Those little bits of self-care can really make a difference.”

Monday, February 22, 2021