BY HANNAH MORPETH
I find it almost impossible to comprehend that today is the first Mental Health Nurses’ Day. From a quick internet search, I’ve established that in February there is a national hedgehog day; doggy date night; world cancer day; eat ice cream for breakfast day; kite-flying day; national tortellini day and the list goes on. We have all these somewhat ridiculous days but no day to recognise the work mental health nurses do both in the UK and around the world, until now. Thankfully some genius realised that Mental Health Nurses’ Day was missing from the calendar.
At the minute it seems positive reporting on the mental health profession is a rare event. The news is plagued with complaints about long waiting lists; staff suspensions and the need for change. Beyond all of this are ordinary people doing extraordinary things to improve the lives of others, those people are mental health nurses. Yes, all of the other things in the news are important but not everything is going wrong and if we are going to encourage people to access services we need people to have some degree of hope in the services they are accessing and the people they will meet.
There are so many things I could say about mental health nursing I would be banging on about it until next Mental Health Nurses’ Day so I will try to keep it brief and not bore you.
Mental Health Nurses Save Lives
It is true, less exciting than Holby City drama, more quietly changing lives. A mental health nurse might not be performing CPR and service users might not be having heart attacks but a huge part of the job is saving lives. Whether that be supporting someone with thoughts to end their life until they are in a different, better place. Or whether you are the person to help someone help themselves to get their life back on track. It may not seem so glamorous and there isn’t a quick fix but there is something incredible about knowing you have helped someone live the life they deserve to be able to live.
It’s all in the Stories
I remember training to be a mental health nurse and people either thought that the profession was a bit mythical or they thought I sat on my bottom sipping cups of tea all day. They say that like it’s a bad thing! Sitting down for a cuppa with someone says more than “have a cup of tea”, it says I am willing to share my time with you and listen to what you have to say to me. Working in mental health is about working with people’s life stories, it’s not a quick one off appointment, it’s walking alongside someone in potentially the most difficult time in their lives. This reminds me of this passage from Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.
The people you meet are at one small part of their lives, everyone has their own story, a story only they own and if you are in the privileged position to hear their story, treat it carefully.
There’s More to it Than Hospitals
Mental health nursing is a career way beyond the walls of a hospital. Thanks to the growing awareness of mental illness there are so many different career avenues, there are nurses in general practice, schools and even some churches hire mental health nurses. Mental health nurses can become therapists, there isn’t a standard mould for what a mental health nurse can be anymore.
For those of you thinking of a career in mental health: it is a challenging, rewarding and beyond what you can imagine career. It is a true privilege to join people on their journey, never forget that, it takes a lot to share your story with someone.
To those of you that have accessed or are accessing mental health services, if you have had a positive experience of care let your nurse know. Not a lot of people shout about how great their mental health nurse has been in the same way they might about a physical health nurse. Break the habit and make some good news for someone today!