This week I tweeted that I would hope that if I were on an acute mental health ward, I hoped that the provider organisation would not assume I wanted a Christmas card/present/’traditional’ turkey meal.
This led to some interesting conversations about assumptions made, even if they are well-meaning, about what Christmas may or may not represent.
I was surprised by the strength of feeling of some that I was being ill-humoured or mean-spirited because ‘Christmas is about the giving, not the receiving’. I even got the odd ‘bah, humbug’.
A patient should be entitled to receive a service in a way that reflects their culture though and my role, as a patient, is not to make staff members or volunteers feel good about giving me something – when it’s done for their conscience, rather than for my benefit – as a patient.
I got a ‘how can you say that as a social worker when surely you have to understand other cultures?’ – almost wilfully missing the ‘if I were a patient’ part to turn what I thought was an interesting point about choice into a veiled attack on my professional practice.
Then there was the ‘oh, but if a happy smile and a nice meal mean less medication, surely it does no harm’. To which I’d say if that’s what it takes, then why not the friendly smile and decent food every day – why save it for Christmas.
I’m not anti-Christmas. I’m Christmas agnostic. I don’t want to suck joy from other people. Please enjoy Christmas, if it’s what you do. I don’t want to stop those celebrations on hospital wards and in care homes around the country.
But I do want providers to reflect on two things – one is that Christmas is not everyone’s ‘culture’ and by assuming it is, you might be causing an important part of my identity, history and family tradition to be negated. Also Christmas, for those who do identify with it, can bring intensely painful memories, flashbacks and expectations. It can be a very difficult time of the year, as all ‘event markers’ can be like birthdays and anniversaries.
Of course communal settings can ‘celebrate’, give out mince pies and have turkey dinners – but wouldn’t it be a better service delivered if these organisations just asked first? My role as a patient or recipient of a service – especially if I did not ask for that service – is not to be a grateful recipient in order for staff to feel better about themselves because they mean well. It should be about a service adapting to me as well. Perhaps looking more closely about assumptions that are made.
And I didn’t realise quite what a controversial opinion this actually was – but Christmas doesn’t ‘belong’ to everyone and if you don’t feel that belonging, it can be alienating to have it imposed. Even if the staff mean well.