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STUDENT BLOG

Comment: 'The 21st century stigma of mental health nursing'

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I applied to be a mental health nurse a year ago and now I’m at university at the start of what I hope to be a long career in nursing

I knew that mental health nursing was the route for me, to help someone in their darkest hour, be part of their recovery and watch them reconstruct their lives was simply inspiring to me.

It’s a common fact that mental health has a huge stigma but I was pretty sure that this would be less evident in 2015 where people appear to understand mental illness, campaign and feel able to express their experiences with others. However, from my first three months at university it’s become clear to me that this stigma is still very much evident.

So why did I choose mental health nursing?

“Yet my peers seem confused as to why we want to be mental health nurses.”

This is a common question from other branches of nurses in my cohort. Mental health is the smallest branch and we often get mixed together with the other branches in lectures which allows us to communicate.

Yet my peers seem confused as to why we want to be mental health nurses. And the answer is exactly the same as to why they wanted to be an adult or children’s nurse - passion. I have the same passion that every student nurse has - a passion to help someone.

Isn’t it the case that some people say mental health nurses aren’t real nurses?

“The only difference is that we focus on recovering the mind rather than the body.”

Just because mental health nurses focus more on talking to patients as a cure doesn’t mean they aren’t real nurses. Mental health nurses still care for patients with physical needs and therefore perform tasks that adult nurses also would. The only difference is that we focus on recovering the mind rather than the body.

”No matter what they may have done everyone deserves the right to exceptional care.”

I am often asked how I will manage to look after violent criminals.

This question (and I have had it asked more than once) really gets to me. Those with mental illnesses aren’t criminals, nor are they violent. In actual fact more violence occurs against those with mental health problems.

In some settings I know I may have to look after patients who have committed violent crimes or may be aggressive, but so could any nurse. The NHS provides care for every citizen so we cannot pick and choose who we care for. No matter what they may have done everyone deserves the right to exceptional care.

”It isn’t a stupid choice nor does it mean I’m not a proper nurse or that I will spend most of my shifts being assaulted.”

I knew the stigma existed but I never realised just how evident it still was. I am a student mental health nurse; it isn’t a stupid choice nor does it mean I’m not a proper nurse or that I will spend most of my shifts being assaulted. I am helping patients to recover, just the same as any branch of nursing.

I find it incredibly difficult to understand why people can accept that organs such as the heart and lungs can malfunction, but when it comes to the mind we still question and discriminate.

Samantha Dalton is a current student nurse studying mental health nursing.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • If you were grasping for something you couldn't see or feel wouldn't you be scared? That's what scares away most people from MH Nursing. If someone was trying to help and was getting more frustrated because they clearly didn't understand you and couldn't appreciate the untangeable, wouldn't you avoid help or as a carer avoid the inconvenience because you knew you couldn't handle acute psychosis or depression? A true nurse welcomes people into their care no matter if it's mental, medical, social or just plain lonely. That's how we succeed in our calling. It's not a job it's a way of life.

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