Hello my name is Helen. I am a student nurse and an informal carer for my mum.
Like nursing, being a carer is a rewarding experience but unlike nursing it is a role that I do not clock off from.
My mum hears voices and has strange beliefs. This is because she has schizophrenia. I have spent much of my adult life supporting her, but this became more difficult when my children were born, which coincided with my mum becoming very unwell.
This was a challenging period in my life and meant I had to negotiate a fine balancing act between protecting my children and supporting my mum.
I tried to access help, but Mum has no insight and would never have asked for treatment. As she has never posed a danger to herself or anyone else she was able to avoid mental health services. This balancing act lasted for almost nine years, but eventual, following a series of incidents, she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
“Throughout this period of contemplation, I discovered that my lived experiences of mental health issues were as much a part of my life as they were of my mum’s”.
Mum was supported in her recovery by some kind nurses, who also showed concern for me. At the time of her admission I was emotionally drained. I hadn’t expected this support. They asked me how I was and said they were there for me if I wanted to talk and when I did they listened.
The nurses’ compassion and care for both me and my mum touched me. They were empathetic and encouraged me to take some time away from the situation and look after myself.
My mum remained an inpatient for some time. When she was eventually discharged I was humbled by the transformation in her and was able to get to know her, perhaps for the first time in my life. However, this was not the only beautiful gift the nurses gave me. Through encouraging me to take time out, I was able to reflect on and make sense of my life.
Throughout this period of contemplation, I discovered that my lived experiences of mental health issues were as much a part of my life as they were of my mum’s. I was inspired to become a mental health nurse and perhaps give this gift to another family like mine. I will be forever indebted to those nurses for the care they gave us both, which has changed our lives.
I am now in the privileged position to be able to nurse people like my mum and support those in a position like mine. From personal experience, it is the simple acts of kindness that make a big difference, such as asking someone if they are OK or just taking five minutes to listen.
Nurses and carers share a common goal, but unlike nurses, carers do not often have a team of people to support them. So when you say, “Hello my name is …”, adding the question “How are you?” means everything to people like me. It might just make their day - and it could change their whole life.
Helen Croft is studying to become a nurse (mental health branch) at the University of Derby.
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