Helena’s personal experiences of the mental health system are helping to shape her into the nurse she wants to be
I was a psychiatric patient for six years before I started my training as a mental health nurse.
In the build-up to starting, I was anxious and scared at the thought of associating with mental health nurses. They’d so often failed me by waiting for my mental state to deteriorate before diving in with the benzodiapines and antipsychotics that turned me into a temporary zombie.
I wondered if I would ever really be one of them, and whether it was better to be accepted or treated like a sheep among the wolves.
It was hard for me to trust any of them - my lecturers, my placement nurses and even to an extent my fellow students. Every one of the friends I’d made in psychiatric services warned me against letting anyone know that I wasn’t just an ex service-user, but a current service-user, who was still an active cog in the system.
It wasn’t until the end of my first placement, when half-way through I realised the only way to distill change was to share that part of me with the staff I was working with.
They seemed shocked, surprised and a bit unnerved.
Some even acted as if I had been sent to spy on them and were jealous of how telling clients I’d been in a similar position to them, helped me develop a new kind of therapeutic relationship. They started telling me the personal aspects of their illness, and the way it had familiarly ruined aspects of their lives.
It was a sad reminder of a permanently open wound, but was healing in a way, for me and the clients, in the reminder that there is hope.
Being stuck under section as an inpatient can literally feel like the end of the world. It didn’t matter how I behaved at that point because all my dreams of nursing were dashed and this was my life - a tiny single room, an en-suite and an open plan area with 10 other people who were united by mental illness.
My feelings during placement went from aggression and bitterness towards the staff as I heard what the clients thought of some of them and how’d they’d been treated, to another level of understanding.
An understanding that I was a completely different entity - I was the psychotic professional, a rarity in psychiatry.
It dawned on me how necessary it is for patients to enter the professional arena - or forever be complaining but unheard. Since starting my training, many of my friends, most of them products of the psychiatric services, have also started mental health nurse training.
We believe that by becoming part of the service that treats us, we can make it the efficient and patient-focused service we want it to be.
Helena King is in her 1st year studying mental health at London Southbank University