As a student nurse, issues surrounding mental health are never far away.
Even when studying adult nursing you are encouraged to have an awareness of concepts related to mental health and mental illness.
But still, even though everyone studies it, there seems to be an element of uncertainty around caring for patients with mental health problems.
In my own experience I can think of of a good example. Let’s call her Danni. Danni was admitted to hospital after taking an overdose of painkillers and excessive alcohol. It was felt that her vulnerable state of mental health was significantly worsened by the anniversary of the death of a close family relative.
The trained nursing staff attended to her immediate medical needs and the health care assistants checked her observations and changed her bed in the morning. I wanted to be active in all aspects of her care but felt restricted by my anxiety and lack of experience with patients who had mental health problems.
If Danni had been admitted with a physical illness you could expect to see a fairly logical series of events taking place.
Give Drug A to cure disease B: it would be a set routine or pathway that you could follow to make that patient medically fit.
But with mental health, you’re faced with a greater degree of uncertainty. You become more aware of what you’re saying and how you’re acting; conscious that even the slightest intonation or vocal inflection could have an undesirable effect.
For me this is still one of the barriers that student nurses have to overcome when dealing with mental health. The perceived fear over what you should or should not be saying is ever present.
It lurks in the background and can stifle a students’ ability to feel fully engaged and able to play a proactive role in a patient’s care.
As students, we should try not to feel restricted when caring for mental health patients. We should feel a sense of empowerment in fulfilling an important caring role as part of the entire multi-disciplinary team.
Students are in a privileged position, by engaging with patients we can make important contributions to mental well-being.
No matter what branch of nursing you chose, you will encounter mental health patients so it is vital that you become fully involved with this essential aspect of modern nursing.