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'Does the new focus on mental health herald a permanent change in attitudes?'

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The last seven days or so has seen a sudden spike in news about mental health care and mental health nursing, which is not before time. Here is a quick run down.

First, mental health nurses in London are swapping job skills with colleagues in accident and emergency to help both groups better manage and treat patients with mental health problems.

The three-month pilot will bring together 30 nurses from London North West University Healthcare Trust and neighbouring Central and North West London Foundation Trust.

Independent healthcare provider, Cygnet Health Care, also revealed ambitious plans for a new in-house training academy to secure its own pipeline of nurses in future.

In Wales, nurse leaders called for all mental health nurses to be supported to develop leadership skills and receive effective and continuing professional development.

The All Wales Senior Nurse Advisory Group has produced a framework for mental health nursing in a bid to ensure that nurses continue to be at the forefront of driving improvements.

Meanwhile, England’s health secretary Matt Hancock has pledged to overhaul mental health support for nurses and other care staff, after a report laid bare the “emotional labour” of working in the NHS.

In total, 33 recommendations were made in the NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission report, published by Health Education England.

See? Lots of news linking mental health and nursing. But I’ve saved the best until last – the success of the inaugural Mental Health Nurses’ Day on 21 February.

The day aimed to increase public awareness of what the role actually involves by promoting positive stories from practising mental health nurses, in turn dispelling outdated and damaging perceptions.

The campaign, launched by the Royal College of Nursing’s Mental Health Forum, was also an opportunity for people to share messages of thanks to those on the frontline.

Organisers hope the initiative will help to encourage more people to join the profession amid widespread concern about declining workforce numbers.

As has been well documented, the number of mental health nurses on the Nursing and Midwifery Council register fell from 90,693 to 88,821 between 2014 and 2018.

Ed Freshwater, one of the organisers at the RCN, said the purpose of the day, which may become an annual event, was to “celebrate, describe and promote” the role of mental health nurses.

He told Nursing Times that the specialty was often depicted as “scary” and that was a lack of understanding about the role.

“It suggested the first shoots of what I hope will grow into a permanent change in attitudes towards mental health”

The success of the day, particularly on social media, led one of my colleagues asked me whether we need awareness days for each of the other specialties. Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, this sudden outpouring of press releases, reports and events was no doubt a coincidence. But it suggested the first shoots of what I hope will grow into a permanent change in attitudes towards mental health.

In recent years, I have detected a subtle shift in views in general towards mental health and discussion around it. People seem far more willing to talk about it openly that ever before.

Of course, this is very welcome, but I hope that it also has a positive knock-on effect for nursing in mental health and also consideration of the mental wellbeing of healthcare staff, as highlighted above. There must be no turning back.

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