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How a beauty salon brings creativity and aids recovery on a psychiatric intensive care unit

Shannon Ward’s move into beauty therapy once a week is helping patients towards better mental health and recovery

Shannon Wards move into beauty therapy once a week is helping patients towards better mental health and recovery

  • Beautiful People started as part of a quality improvement project aimed at reducing violence and aggression
  • The beauty salon operates in psychiatric intensive care unit providing mental healthcare and treatment for women with distress or other challenges
  • It has helped improve the ward culture and atmosphere, as well as unleashing creativity in sometimes acutely ill patients

Shannon Ward is a psychiatric intensive care unit providing mental healthcare and treatment for women whose acute distress or other challenges require a secure environment. But once a week

Shannon Ward’s move into beauty therapy once a week is helping patients towards better mental health and recovery

  • Beautiful People started as part of a quality improvement project aimed at reducing violence and aggression
  • The beauty salon operates in psychiatric intensive care unit providing mental healthcare and treatment for women with distress or other challenges
  • It has helped improve the ward culture and atmosphere, as well as unleashing creativity in sometimes acutely ill patients
Make-up applied in smoky eye style
Make-up applied in smoky eye style. Picture: iStock

Shannon Ward is a psychiatric intensive care unit providing mental healthcare and treatment for women whose acute distress or other challenges require a secure environment. But once a week it also becomes a beauty salon.

Nails, hair, make-up – and, particularly at the moment, false eyelashes – are all available at the 12-bed unit as part of a project that is having a positive impact on patients and staff.

Ward manager Cassandra Balisson says the project, called Beautiful People, helps people in their recovery and brings them joy in difficult times. It has also unleashed creativity in sometimes acutely ill patients – and helped to improve the ward culture and atmosphere.

‘It takes the patients to a different place where they can be the person they were in the community’

Cassandra Balisson, ward manager

‘I didn’t realise it would have this much of an impact on Shannon Ward, but you can see exactly how it makes the person feel,’ says Ms Balisson.

‘It’s not something where it’s literally just how you feel for that two hours attending the session – it takes the patients to a completely different place where they don’t actually remember everything they are currently going through and they can be the person they were in the community.’

Beautiful People is a collaboration between make-up company Unruly Beauty, run by make-up artist Natasha Devedlaka-Price and the ward, which is in St Charles Hospital, part of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust .

It is among a portfolio of projects run by One Community, which works with service users and carers with lived experience of mental health issues and community and statutory organisations.

Cate Latto, One Community founder and lead
Cate Latto

Beautiful People is such a simple thing, but it’s so powerful

According to One Community founder and lead Cate Latto, Beautiful People has surpassed expectations. ‘From day one it was just the most incredible success,’ she says.

‘The impact was huge. We started it with just a few bits of make-up and donations and stuff that people brought in, but now we’ve connected with some big brands as well. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s so powerful.’

Ms Balisson, a registered mental health nurse, explains that although Beautiful People – a name that the service users themselves came up with – started as part of a quality improvement project aimed at reducing violence and aggression, it has become much more than that.

‘It’s lovely seeing patients sharing tips and doing beauty things’

Natasha Devedlaka-Price, an experienced make-up artist
Natasha Devedlaka-Price

As an experienced make-up artist, Natasha Devedlaka-Price, known as Tash, has worked with many well-known figures, including former United States president Barack Obama. Now she is using her skills with the Beautiful People project.

‘My mum has bipolar and addiction issues, and has been in and out of hospital, so I’m familiar with St Charles because of that,’ she says.

‘By coincidence I met Cate Latto on a dog walk, and she worked there. We bonded and she suggested that I come in. I knew that when my mum was in hospital she liked it when someone did her nails or her hair and she always wanted her make-up bag. It was still important to her even though she was unwell.

‘I thought it would be nice to dedicate a group to doing just that – hair, skincare, make-up and nails. It’s proved to be popular, which is great. Working with these girls is rewarding because I can see my mum in a lot of them, and feel a lot of compassion for them.’

‘Eyelashes seems to be the thing right now… they feel pretty glamorous’

Ms Devedlaka-Price has also been impressed not just by the women’s level of engagement in the project but also by their creativity and expertise.

‘One girl – she was probably about 19 – had lost her confidence but then she got into it, and she did this whole beautiful smoky eye, which isn’t easy at all. I could tell that it felt good.

Brushes for eye make-up
Brushes for eye make-up. Picture: iStock

‘And then the other girls were asking if she could do that to them, which is another good thing, because sometimes there’s a little bit of a lack of trust, or some people aren’t keen for you to touch them at all because of what they’ve been through. So it’s lovely seeing them sharing tips and doing beauty things on each other.’

Only three patients take part in a session at any one time, and they are free to come and go as they please. ‘I put aromatherapy oils on and music, and set it up nicely. It’s chilled and easy going – if they just want to do the nails on one hand, that’s fine. Eyelashes seems to be the thing right now – they love the lashes, and luckily I’ve got a friend who donated loads – and they feel pretty glamorous.’

Patients and staff get involved and have a good time

‘We’ve worked closely with Cate in finding activities that patients want to engage with, that they enjoy, that they can go to on a weekly basis and that they want to attend,’ she says.

‘That’s something that Beautiful People has done. It’s got patients involved, it’s got staff involved, and they’ve just had a good time.’

Essentially, patients who attend the sessions have the opportunity to have treatments such as manicures or hairstyling. As well as having their make-up done by the expert they are given access to top-brand products to do their own treatments, and also to work with staff and each other. All this is against a background of music – and, says Ms Balisson, a lot of chatting. It’s a happy atmosphere, which is particularly valuable for this group of patients, she says.

‘You know, they’ve had COVID going on, they’ve had Christmas coming up – there have been so many sort of depressing times for our patients at the moment. And Beautiful People gives our patients and staff something to look forward to.’

The sessions take place close to Ms Balisson’s office, and she says she is sure of a stream of visitors on Wednesdays, which is Beautiful People day. ‘Patients come knocking on my office door – they want to show me what they look like,’ she says. ‘Every single time I go there they tell me what they’ve done, how they feel, say: “Can you see my make-up?”, point to what they’ve done, what another person has done. It’s a real group effort – it’s about everyone getting involved.’

‘Beautiful People is golden… it’s essential in drug recovery and can be life-saving’

K has long had a love for make-up – in a former life she was a beauty consultant at a department store. But she also has a history of addiction and had a bad relapse last year, resulting in her admission to Shannon Ward.

‘The One Community team are outstanding,’ she says. ‘It’s a therapeutic service for people in recovery. I was involved in narcotics and I’m nearly 60 and the toll on me was dramatic. Just going there, to the Beautiful People sessions, was unbelievable. It’s so professional and the transformations going on are unreal.’

With her background in cosmetics, K has particularly enjoyed the quality of the products on offer through Beautiful People. ‘Tash [make-up artist Natasha Devedlaka-Price] is using good brand names here, so it’s coming into a designer realm – it’s an “upgrade” from having just basic things from a supermarket or wherever, to using designer products again. It’s sensational.’

She hopes to work with Beautiful People in the community, helping people in recovery. ‘It’s golden. I’d say it’s essential in drug recovery, particularly in women, where you’ve been broken down, stripped down to nothing, and then having that contact. It can be life-saving.’

Since an increased focus on activities, levels of violence and aggression on wards have reduced

Sometimes, she says, patients are so pleased with the transformation that they don’t want to take the make-up off. ‘They’re so happy with it that they want to showcase it for the rest of the week. It gives you a kind of Saturday feeling but on a Wednesday.’

Levels of violence and aggression on the ward have reduced since the increased focus on activities, and the ward hit its target of a 30% reduction by September 2020. ‘We managed to meet our goal and one of the key reasons was groups like Beautiful People,’ she says.

Nurses find it is making a difference to their work too, she says, as it helps build a rapport with patients.

‘Groups like this that involve patients and staff being on the same level and doing things for each other break down boundaries and hierarchies,’ she says. ‘So when you are trying to de-escalate somebody, it’s someone you already have a rapport with, it’s someone they recognise from the group, and it helps build that relationship.’

Part of the mural by urban street artist Fin Dac at Shannon Ward
Part of a mural by street artist Fin Dac at Shannon Ward. Picture: North West London NHS Foundation Trust

The project has also inspired urban street artist Fin Dac, who created a mural for Shannon Ward after attending one of the sessions. Patients have contributed their own drawings to the design.

Teamwork is key, everyone on Shannon Ward has pulled together to make sessions safe and fun

Ms Balisson’s top tip for anyone thinking of introducing something similar would be teamwork. ‘Everyone on Shannon Ward has pulled together as a team, and that has been fantastic for us. Obviously we have to risk assess every patient for every activity, so that’s something we put high on our list, and we look at each situation all the time – maybe it’s more appropriate for one person, or two people to be in the room, maybe certain groups of people are better than others. So that’s something we’re constantly doing every single session to make sure the sessions are safe and fun as well.’

It doesn’t cost a huge amount of money, she says, because so much of the make-up and other supplies are donated.

‘In terms of building a business case, this is something that helps patients who are in hospital and who may not even be able to see relatives because of COVID-19. This is something that gives them joy – it brings them happiness in a time and an environment where that’s difficult to do. Under the restrictions we have, it can be difficult to find the right groups for the right people to make them feel a certain way, and this group has done that.’


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