I came into nurse training knowing that when I qualified I intended to work with older people in mental health care settings.
My final placement of the first year was on an old person’s mental health assessment ward.
I learnt many things, not only that I was more sure than ever that this was a discipline I wished to focus on in my career but also that there was a lot more to learn about and I had previously imagined.
Before my placement I thought that old person’s mental health revolved mainly around the varying kinds of dementias.
One of the challenges I found working with older people was maintaining their dignity when the illnesses they had meant that they no longer had control of their bodily functions due to psychological or physical reasons.
In my ignorance and misplaced kindness I sometimes did not think to ask the individuals if they wanted to do something by themselves
I didn’t anticipate the anxiety or the distress and often found it hard to know what to say to reassure them that this did not make them any less of a person.
It didn’t occur to me that an older person with a mental health illness could become well enough to go home, and how important it was for the individual to make the choice for themselves.
In my ignorance and misplaced kindness I sometimes did not think to ask if a patient wanted to do something by themselves.
Although older people’s nursing can be very physically and mentally challenging, working on this ward only reinforced my ambition to work with older people.
One of the most spectacular things about working on the ward was seeing patients steadily improve over a period of time.
A patient arrived unable to feed themselves, unable to speak and visibly mentally tortured. As time progressed with the relevant treatments and support from staff the patient gradually improved. Each small positive change in the patient seemed such a wonderful thing.
Something as simple as a patient asking for a drink when they haven’t spoken in weeks made me realise exactly why I want to be a mental health nurse.
Sadly there are patients whose mental-health will continue to deteriorate due to the nature of their illness. This is not to say that improvements could not be made improve their quality of life.
I was very lucky to be placed in an environment where the care for the patients was second to none and was able to learn just what kind of a nurse I wanted to be, not just in discipline but also in character.