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‘I've essentially treated myself like a patient’

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How can student nurses cope with personal loss during their training? When Becky lost her father during second year, she turned to her nursing skills to help her cope


As I finished 1st year, another student told me to expect to suffer from ‘second year blues’.

I’m now halfway through my 2nd year and to be honest, I still don’t know whether I can give a fair assessment of that statement. But I do think a positive mind-set is important and when someone tells you something like that, it’s easy to believe it.

At the date this article goes to press, it will be just shy of 3 months since my Dad passed away.

He died suddenly of a brain aneurysm rupturing as a major intracerebral haemorrhage at the age of 59.

My Granddad also recently passed away, although this was more expected, and I’ve experienced other personal difficulties since starting this course, as I’m sure many of you reading this have too.

Although he didn’t work in healthcare, my Dad embodied everything a good mental health nurse should be. In fact, this was something I was actually planning to tell him the week he died but never got the chance to.

He had an innate emotional and technical intelligence. He was a calm presence who showed kindness beyond measure and always made me feel safe. He touched many people’s lives, not just mine, in the small gestures he made.

Those gestures that show you care for others cannot be generated; this natural compassion is what makes a good mental health nurse.

How I have coped?

I think when people have a real passion for what they do, it shows.

I’ve kept going, I’ve been resilient. I could have faltered and I may do still, but it is so important for mental health nurses, and all nurses for that matter, to have a keen sense of self-awareness of their own health.

Too often, both in and out of practice and in general society, I see people not looking after their own health - absolute fundamentals of good health – sleep, nutrition, exercise and social contact.

They seem so basic but when you strip a lot of mental health problems down, you can usually find one or many of these things are off balance.

In a recent @StudentNT twitchat, I commented that I always put my own health above all other priorities. How can I look after anyone else if I can’t look after myself? 

With that in mind, the only things I have done in the last few weeks is make sure I am attending to every single one of these fundamentals of good health. After the initial shock passed, at about the 3 week stage, I started doing some exercise again and having routines and goals helped.

I’ve kept a good sleep routine and seen family and friends. There have been big stressors: arranging the funeral and other affairs at short notice but my university gave me appropriate time off and that support has been crucial from me to stay where I am on the course.

My grief symptoms have been intolerable at times, but I hope I can take these with me and use them to help understand those in my care. I have essentially treated myself as a patient to help myself get through this time.

When life changes suddenly, your priorities are shifted. You get that sense that life is fleeting and you must grab opportunities and do things you enjoy.

This is what mental health nursing means to me. With the right mind-set and drive there are great opportunities to make a difference in other peoples’ lives.

This is one of the reasons I applied to become a Student Nursing Times editor.

Have you suffered personal loss during your studies? How did you cope?


Becky Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ student editor for mental health branch

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Hi Becky. Well done on coping so well so far with your father's passing. My mum dropped dead suddenly with the same condition at 56 when I was 3 months pregnant with my last child almost 18 years ago so I sympathise. I couldn't function for the first 2 weeks afterwards due to the utter shock as she was a very healthy good living lady. As for personal loss during studies, I was a 2nd year mental health nurse student when I walked onto my next placement on a drug and alcohol unit to see my father sitting there as a patient. I was estranged from him due to his cruel treatment of us as were my siblings and he had told the psychiatrist he had no children. They only had to see us together to know who was lieing. I was moved off the ward to another unit a mental health day centre on the same grounds only to walk on there and see my grandmother, his mother, sitting there who I was also estranged from due to her cruel behaviour (like mother like son I'm afraid). She had come to stay with him and of course he was admitted himself. I was put on study leave until they could organise something else for me. He went on to throw himself off a building, survive, and finally drunk himself to death. Then when I was starting my third year I became pregnant to my fiance who was told it was unlikely he could have children (clearly untrue!) and the tutor tried to have me kicked off the course. Thankfully his boss was a more pragmatic supportive man and I finished the course and went on to be head hunted before I registered. I have given back ever since for his belief in me. When I look back I don't know how I coped with certain events like these other than asking myself do you want to do this, and having the appropriate help of others. You just do. I agree with you that natural compassion and good basic health goes a long way for all of us. I don't however agree with whoever told you to beware of the second year blues. I have had 3 children and I was told to beware of the second day blues post birth: I had it only with my first. We are all different as are situations and coping mechanisms. One size does not always fit all. Good luck in your studies, exams, and future. You sound just the type of nurse the service needs.

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