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'It takes self-awareness and bravery to admit that we aren’t “perfect” human beings'

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Why do mental health professionals receiving mental health support get stigmatised, asks student nurse Rebecca Baird

I am human. I experience a range of emotions, successes and failures in life. Ultimately, I am a complex person, much like the individuals I nurse to wellbeing; I am a psychiatric student nurse and I too experience mental health problems. 

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Rebecca Baird

Since becoming a student nurse, why do I feel judged and am asked to hide or shy away from talking about the failures and difficulties I experience? Is it a lack of understanding among the health services towards this subject or the lack of literature or of awareness?  

Don’t get me wrong, life can have beautiful, inspiring moments to drive me, however, it is the difficulties we all face in life that are sugar-coated in, say, social media or passed on in general conversations by peers, friends and colleagues. 

This is something shied away from or even taboo to discuss within mental health practice. Through observing staffing attitudes as a student nurse, I have found that despite the illegality of discrimination in employment there still remain preconceived notions regarding the competence of a mental health professional experiencing mental health problems. 

As an individual who receives support for her mental health, I have often tried to play down my experiences for fear of being judged by my colleagues or this having an effect on my ability to qualify as a nurse.

This idea of mine may sound silly or incomprehensible to the public as you’d maybe assume I’d be able to empathise and truly understand the hardships of experiencing mental health problems and able to connect and build relationships with the patients I nurse.

It is true, however, that no matter what experiences I have gone through, this will not be equivalent to “putting yourself in their shoes” as this is impossible to do, with no two experiences being the same. 

You are not weak for admitting or seeking help for a mental health problem if you work within a mental health service. I feel, if anything, it takes self-awareness and bravery to admit that we aren’t “perfect” human beings. 

Nonetheless, in today’s society this subject is coming more to light and perhaps the competency of health professionals with mental health issues is no longer in question. 

Indeed, like other physical health issues, we may need time or more support working in the profession than others who aren’t actively experiencing mental health problems. However, this shouldn’t burden us. 

I can truly say I have worked with amazing and fully competent professionals who too have experience of the hardships of mental health difficulties. If a professional breaks his or her arm or leg and comes back to work, why do people ask how the person is doing and hold empathy for them, yet not have the same open curiosity about their mental health? 

I hope one day this stigma can be lifted through various attempts to create awareness, such as blog posts like this and through individuals coming out to talk about their problems. 

 And this way, assure people going through a difficult time with their mental health that it is okay to address and talk about their experiences and most importantly, seek the right care and support to carry on their training and career. 

Where all hope fails, I say to you all that I believe in you and I know with the right determination and motivation, we all can aid health and social services with our experiences and be able to empathise and provide outstanding care to those in need.

Rebecca Baird is currently in her second year studying mental health nursing at Robert Gordon University in Scotland

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Hi Rebecca, I have been a qualified mental health nurse for 20 years and I have worked with colleagues with mental health issues. As you mentioned, everyone is different and mental health can effect each individual differently. Is mental health similar to a broken leg? I don't think so. Mental health involves time and grading where an individual is at. It is difficult for colleagues to balance how much time they offer to their associates mental wellbeing and to their clients. They might feel unsure if there colleague wants to talk about their state as I remember one colleague who preferred to discuss his issues with his partner and not mental health staff as he believed she was not trying to analyse him. Its a difficult issue but I sure as you keep on raising awareness, positive changes will be made.

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