The profession of mental health nursing is perhaps less well known about or understood than any other field of nursing practice. Though the concept has grown in popularity over the past 35 years, it remains a mystery to some. Dr Elizabeth Collier, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing, provides an explanation.
Mental health nursing is a part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council register. It requires a lifelong commitment to personal development and critical self-reflection. Learning about the self is a fundamental part of the process of enabling mental health nurses to engage with people in mental distress.
Therapeutic use of self is sometimes the only intervention we have when interacting with people in highly emotional and sometimes traumatic situations. The Mental Health nurse develops a therapeutic relationship that is respectful of the individual’s choices, experiences and circumstances. This involves building on strengths, holding hope and enhancing resilience to promote recovery.
Mental health nursing practice is endlessly varied. It requires not only expertise in understanding different ways of thinking about and interpreting mental distress but also a holistic awareness of how physical health and mental interact with each other.
Mental health nursing students have to learn about good physical assessments. Many physical illnesses can cause ‘psychiatric’ symptoms such as hallucinations or confusion. Physical health skills and knowledge enable resolution of such symptoms. An example of this is recognising and treating infections.
An additional level of consideration that makes this field of nursing so fascinating is the ability to learn about and understand cultures different to your own. It is important to learn how mental distress is understood and responded to effectively within different cultural contexts.
The mental health nurses of the future can develop modern mental health nursing practices that strive to support a strengths-based philosophy. Within this, efforts are made to:
- recognise individual skills
- be more aware of power imbalances between staff and service users
- focus on mutual learning, hopes, goals and empowering environments in seeking recovery
This is a complex process and one that requires the ability and willingness to understand and implement sophisticated theoretical possibilities while managing relationships productively and constructively.
Intensive and challenging
Mental health nurse education in the UK offers the opportunity to meet a comprehensive range of competences in practice settings. This leads to a registered nurse qualification alongside development of academic skills. This ensure skills and knowledge are assessed at a high level and achievement of the academic qualification at the same time. This makes mental health nurse education intensive and challenging.
Some people say learning starts after qualification but students are well prepared to work in a variety of settings. These can include, among many others:
- acute mental health care
- forensic and prison settings
- older people
- children and young people
Most people spend time consolidating their learning for the first year or two after qualifying before starting to think about further study. Getting a job in the UK or overseas is virtually guaranteed once you have met all the academic and proficiency outcomes. The variety and opportunity for your future are myriad with a mental health nursing qualification.
On Mental Health Nursing Day, 21 February 2020, learning how to help and support people in complex mental distress could be a goal worth setting.
To study mental health nursing at the University of Derby, find out more about: