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'Some people think mental health is violent and something to be hushed up'

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Currently, I am on my summer holidays following my first year as a student nurse.

This first year has been a real rollercoaster of excitement, tiredness and also anticipation - with a good dose of coffee thrown in on an early shift.

I am probably the person my family thought least likely to want to become a nurse – I seem to faint at the mere mention of blood (as happened in a rather memorable A Level biology lesson).

Being in the presence of blood on the other hand, I seem to be okay! But to me, being a student mental health nurse isn’t solely dependent on my ability to face blood and gore – it’s about the relationships I form with patients/service users, about how I can facilitate their recovery and/or self-management of their condition – working in partnership.

My first year of placement focused on developing therapeutic relationships

My first year of placement has focused on developing this therapeutic relationship, supplemented by clinical skills sessions at University on topics such as questioning style and the therapeutic relationship itself. Being able to apply theory to practice has been indispensable – I have an understanding as to why something is done, not just how to do it or even that it is done.

This was particularly relevant when playing board games with patients.

Playing board games presented an informal environment for interactions with staff – and provided an alternative activity to watching television or relaxing in the garden.

'Some people think mental health is violent and something to be hushed up'

Despite initially feeling frustration at hearing of the responsibility placed on my peers compared to my own experiences of numerous rounds of Scrabble and similar games, I am now thankful for it – without this time spent with patients, how could I possibly have been able to complete any other work – even taking blood pressures?

Sometimes it felt like people didn’t think mental health nursing to be ‘proper’ nursing

I recognised when patients were irritable, remembered their preferences in terms of which arm to use when taking observations and whether or not they liked sugar in their tea – a small “Thank you,” from a gentleman who had struggled to engage with anybody on the ward meant more than being able to tell my housemates that I had completed a medication round that day, even though sometimes it feels that people don’t consider mental health nursing to be ‘proper’ nursing.

I don’t pretend to know everything – I still have so much to learn, and I recognise this. I like to think that I put everything I have into knowing what I do know though – knowing it well and being able to apply it.

When I tell people that I am a student mental health nurse, a common response is along the lines of “Oh… rather you than me!”

This is generally as a result of a perception of mental health as violent and something to be hushed up and swept under the carpet. If I can do one small thing to promote mental health awareness, I will be glad to do it – even if it begins with such a comment as “Why on earth would you want to do that?”.

With around 1 in 4 individuals experiencing mental health problems at some point during their life, you never know who you might help – and you don’t have to be a mental health professional. Various charities and organisations offer advice on how to broach the subject. They might be your parents, your sibling or your best friend. They might even be a total stranger. But why should that matter? It doesn’t to me.

Emily Sharp is studying an undergraduate masters degree in mental health nursing at Nottingham University.


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