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‘Winter is a challenge for mental health nurses’

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Alison Gadsby on why winter is tough for nurses, especially those working in mental health

I am not a winter person. There is nothing I like about this time of year.

First, there is getting out of bed in the dark. I don’t believe this to be natural, and neither does my body, which I have to drag out of bed every morning. In an ideal world, I’d be able to hibernate until late April.

I also don’t like the cold weather. I’m chilly in the midst of a heatwave so, at this time of year, I wear multiple layers even next to a roaring fire and with the heating on. And, like so many others, I do get miserable when it seems as if I haven’t seen sunshine for weeks.

However, I do not have a bad time at all compared with those people who feel so bleak that life for them is not worth living.

And now there is the added pressure of the credit crunch, unemployment and house repossessions.

I’m assuming that nursing jobs are pretty secure, so that’s one less thing for nurses to worry about, leaving us to concentrate on keeping the most desperate of those we care for safe and well until the sun shines.

Suicide rates rise in January, and I imagine that this year there will be even more calls made to Samaritans and similar organisations. So what can we do to help, and assist people to help themselves?

There’s all the usual health promotion stuff – healthy eating, getting enough sleep and exercise, and making time to leave our stresses behind. But none of this can work miracles and will not provide people with a job to go to or put a roof over their head.

Crisis management is all well and good – but what happens when we have averted the immediate crisis and the person has to go back to the life situation that contributed to their desperation in the first place?

We live and nurse in a society in which we are very good at not depending on each other and on surviving without networks. It is a challenge to guide those who have no hope towards something that may plant the seeds of hope. Maybe some talking therapy, looking at what made coping so difficult. Or maybe some voluntary work or some sessions at a day centre.

It’s also worth bearing in mind if, like me, you struggle through the dark days and long wait for summer, that it can be significant to someone teetering on the edge if we smile and say: ‘Good morning’ or ask how friends and neighbours are. You never know what a difference it may make.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse in Devon

Want to read more of Alison Gadsby’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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