I went into nursing because of my constant exposure to mental illness in my family, in me and some of my friends. I wanted, and want, to make a difference. To put my experience into helping others.
This has come with many challenges. Some of which I wasn’t really prepared for…
Many, if not most, service users (will refer to as people from herein) have a traumatic history. During our routine assessments and therapeutic work we come into contact with these life stories daily. Many have been sexually, physically, financially, emotionally abused or neglected as children and/or adults and are vulnerable. I’m sure a lot of us can unfortunately tell ours too 😓.
Psychologically it’s painful. Mental health nursing by its very nature means trying our best in forming a close trusting relationship with people with ‘unconditional positive regard’. No matter who they are, what their history is or how they speak with you or do to you, you treat everyone the same. All these histories are not a usual part of life for the average joe bloggs on the street to hear. We bear this in our hearts everyday.
Some people have committed the most immoral acts such as rape, murder, violent acts. Some are paedophiles. On a regular basis, as a nurse, you are verbally abused. Screamed at, accused of being an asshole, not caring etc. Sometimes physically attacked. Most of the time you can understand this is not the norm for this person but because they’re unwell they see you as the enemy and understandably so. Especially when the mental health act has been enforced. But all the while you’re trying to help, trying to help ‘recovery’, showing you care.
These factors are obviously risks, whether to others or, more often, to themselves and it takes a lot of responsibility to assess and manage this. It’s huge.
Often we are faced with self harm and suicide. Dressing wounds, managing overdoses, cutting ligatures. Sometimes finding people who have sadly completed suicide. Standing up in court even though you know you have tried to help the best you can.
When you have your own mental illness (obviously stable if practising), it’s a conscious effort to not over identify. I want to say to them I’m here because I know how it feels and I want to help but you can’t and sometimes you’re shouted at and seen as the bad person and sometimes it feels that connection, that true understanding, might help.
We cry on the way home or at home. We can’t show it too much at the time because we have to remain professional. It’s not easy to put things to the back of our minds. I often think about people after they leave services, how they’re getting on and hoping they’re ok. I can remember each and every person I’ve worked with.
We’re usually short staffed and this means we can’t do what we want to do. We really want to talk to people all day long, take them places, help them reconnect, cope, whatever it is that we both conclude would be helpful. But we can’t as much as we like. Our hands are tied.