After almost two years on the course, you would hope that I would have perfected an answer to the following question: “what do you mental health nurses actually do all day?”. However, I have not
What my flustered reply usually includes is that I have done a lot of chatting, drunk a lot of tea and I am now absolutely exhausted.
What confuses my already sceptical loved ones even more is that a lot of the work I do is with non-clinical teams including bed management.
As a fun Monday game, you can simulate what an incredibly low-level anxiety attack feels like by typing ’mental health beds’ into your preferred search engine then reading page after page of “Bed shortage blamed on system”, “No mental health beds”, “Bed crisis driven by discharge delays”, “Care pushed to breaking point by lack of beds” and my personal favourite, “Why mental health bed cuts make me ashamed to work for the NHS”.
These are all headlines I have plucked from the first page of results. Are you seeing a pattern, too?
“It is now my go-to homework resource for inquisitive family and friends.”
Rather helpfully, the BBC have made a comprehensive and hugely watchable episode of Panorama called Britain’s Mental Health Crisis. I implore anyone who has ever had an interest in mental health, health organisation or frankly, people, to look it up on iPlayer post-haste.
It is now my go-to homework resource for inquisitive family and friends. What do we do all day? We receive a privileged look into the lives of vulnerable people and we do our level best to get them the care and resources we can in a system already compromised heavily by budget cuts. Spoiler alert: there are no beds.
”What is lost in the quest for snappy headlines is a proper understanding of the human impact, both on those managing the beds and those seeking to occupy them.”
What is lost in the quest for snappy headlines is a proper understanding of the human impact, both on those managing the beds and those seeking to occupy them.
I’ve seen staff on wards, in the community and in specialist offices break down at the injustice of the system. I have seen them weep and scream because the people in their care are being let down.
”These are the people that maintain the crisis lines, do medication drops at 3am and sit for hours as someone pours out their heart and soul to them”
Beds or no beds, as a student nurse, I have seen first-hand the hard work of all the staff - nurses, healthcare assistants, doctors, police officers, AMHPs, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists, paramedics and more - that are on the frontline of mental healthcare do every day.
Despite attacks on their pay, pensions, staffing levels and services, these are the people that maintain the crisis lines, do medication drops at 3am and sit for hours as someone pours out their heart and soul to them before turning around and giving a patient the strength and encouragement to build themselves back up again.
”They have been outraged at the scale of services lost and taken aback by the number of people that it may go on to adversely affect.”
Watching the impact of the documentary on my friends and family has been profound.
They have been outraged at the scale of services lost and taken aback by the number of people that it may go on to adversely affect.
They have empathised with stressed Home Treatment nurses who have seen their daily caseload swell beyond what can be considered safe, let alone therapeutic.
Finally, they have been humbled by what a single person in one of our beds may be feeling and struggling with at any one time.
As we continue to work in the system, the danger is that we become blunted to the devastating effect of these cuts on our services, our service users and us as nurses. I hope that, against adversity, we can continue to stand together and work together to keep people safe.
I am so proud to be a student nurse and work in the NHS. I am proud of my colleagues and I hope that when I qualify, I can work as hard and fight as fiercely for the good of those in my care as they do. Beds or no beds, the passion and commitment of the staff in frontline mental health services is truly inspiring.
Hazel Nash is Student Nursing Times’ student editor, mental health branch.