So, you want to become a mental health nurse?

As today is the first ever Mental Health Nurses’ day, I thought I would do my bit (and my best) to answer some frequently asked questions that I have come across whilst being a MH nursing student.

Why mental health nursing?

When I got my first ever healthcare job, I worked with people of all ages that required some care and assistance. The majority of the people that I care for were over the age of 65 and usually had some form of dementia. I loved that I was able to help these people, whether it was to help them to get in and out of bed and set them up for the day, or just making them a cup of tea and chatting to them. I also enjoyed being there for the families of the people that I cared for, making sure that they could have someone to express any concerns to. After community care, I went into supported living. Here I supported people of all ages who had chronic mental health conditions, and would help develop their skills to ultimately live an independent life. It was in this job role that I first encountered self harm, suicide attempts, and a whole range of mental health professionals. I wanted to do more for these people. I wanted to understand why they felt the things they did, I wanted to learn more.

Is mental health nursing scary?

This was a question that I used to ask myself a lot. Before I worked in mental health I was set on become a general nurse and work in either theatre or A&E. I’m ashamed to say that my understanding of mental health was very limited, and what I had learnt had been taught to me by the media. I had images of these big hospitals where staff are often attacked and injured by patients. That is, until I actually sat down with a mental health nursing student on one of my very first open days for a university I was applying to. She told me how much she loved it, and her eyes lit up when she talked about her experiences and that’s when I realised that the majority of what the media portrays is inaccurate. Don’t get me wrong, there are situations that’s you have to deal with in mental health that you probably wouldn’t deal with in general nursing. But from these experiences I feel that they have made me in to a better nurse (and person). I’ve learnt that yes, there is a chance that you may get injured on shift, but isn’t that the case with all fields of nursing?

What does a mental health nurse do?

A mental health nurse supports someone that suffer with a mental illness. It does not matter whether a person develops this illness organically (like a dementia or a chemical imbalance) or is functional (develops through experiences eg traumatic event). The nurse will work with the patient to help them to lead a positive life and to give them ways of coping with the illness (such as medications, psychological input, behavioural therapies). Mental health nurses can work in a wide range of environments such as hospitals, within the community, specialist units, clinics, and sometimes with other emergency services.

So I hope these answer some of the questions that people wonder about mental health nursing. If you are still unsure if this field of practice is for you, I would 100% recommend speaking to a student and a qualified nurse to tell you about their experiences!

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