How to prepare for a mental health nurse job
07th Aug, 2019
Abigail, Jonathan and Bethany (names changed to protect patient confidentiality) have all been registered mental health nurses for one year. We asked them to discuss the role of mental health nurses and what advice they can give to other RMNs just starting out.
How have you managed your work/life balance as an RMN?
“I think the part of the job that I had never really anticipated was what happens when I’m not actually working. Becoming a mental health nurse is something I chose to do because, like so many other people, I’ve struggled with my own mental health and wanted to pursue a nursing path where I was helping misunderstood minds. I quickly realised how hard it could be to switch off once my shift was done; I would spend a lot of time in my room and didn’t fancy socialising much after long days on the ward.”
“Yeah, I felt the same as Jonathan. I think finding a balance between my working life and personal life was really difficult at first because mental health nurse jobs can be so intense at times. I had a lovely mentor who taught me that talking about how you feel with colleagues, friends and family can make a big difference.”
“It is important to know what you can and can’t discuss though. I always think about the people who don’t know what a mental health nurse’s day involves, like my friends; they assume everyone I care for is dangerous or incapable of a conversation, but that’s so untrue. I will talk to them about what my day is like and how I’m feeling, but I won’t breach patient confidentiality. I wouldn’t like my doctors and nurses talking about my treatment to their friends, so I wouldn’t do that either.”
“Exactly. My advice to anyone in mental health nurse training would be to open up about your feelings when you can without discussing confidential patient information. I’m happy that I can see my friends now and feel confident that they understand why I might be a bit quieter on some days.”
What is the most essential aspect of your mental health job?
“I’d say that paying close attention to handovers is an essential part of the job. When someone is completing their handover, you’ll find out about any urgent tasks or actions that have been taken while the last nurses were on duty.”
“Yeah, the handover session will give you better insight into your patients, especially if you’re coming in for a shift after some time off.”
“It’s important to ask questions during the handover session too. So, if you’ve missed some information or you’re not quite sure on something, don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to repeat themselves. It’s better to ask again than make a mistake during your shift.”
How does mental health nursing compare with other specialties?
“The role of a mental health nurse is really different to other nursing paths. Whereas with, let’s say a general nurse job, patients don’t always need constant supervision, but in a mental health setting, patients might need more frequent monitoring.”
“Patients who self-harm as a way of coping with their symptoms can be creative with what they use. I’ve heard stories of patients breaking off parts of their windowsills in the past. That’s why being extremely alert, even on nightshifts, is a vital part of becoming a mental health nurse.”
“It is so rewarding though. I think all nursing is a great career path but with mental health, it’s really amazing to witness a patient’s journey to recovery and feel part of that.”
How do you unwind after a mental health shift?
“When I first got my mental health nurse qualifications, I knew this job would be difficult at times, but I definitely didn’t take my own mental health seriously enough. As with any high-pressure job, nurses can start feeling the strain of long hours and challenging situations, which is why taking some time for yourself and working on your resilience is really important.”
“I agree. I will do my best to make sure I’m getting even just a few minutes to eat some food and drink some water. Coffee is great but if I don’t drink water, I get tired quickly and that affects the level of care I give to my patients.”
“I like to run myself a nice hot bath when I get home and read a good book. That’s my escape, I guess. It helps me unwind from the day and gives me time to reflect on how I’m feeling. If I feel like I need to cry, I’ll cry. If I feel depressed or anxious, I’ll talk to someone about it. I think people are so afraid to acknowledge mental health issues if you work in mental health nurse jobs, because as a professional, you think you should hold it together all the time, but nurses are humans too, so we’ll feel lots of the issues our patients are facing.”
“And that goes for all healthcare professionals, not just RMNs. It’s easy to feel like you’re failing at your job because you’re overwhelmed or burnt out, but there are lots of ways to help yourself, you just have to find what works for you.”
What do you like most about your role?
“I love the feeling of gaining your patients’ trust. I think people assume they’ll do it automatically, but trust needs to be earned and when you make that connection with patients, it’s so rewarding. That’s when you start to feel part of their recovery.”
“For me, it’s knowing that I’m making a difference to people who are struggling with things I’ve experienced. I was really well supported when I was struggling with my mental health, so giving that support to others is a really special feeling.”
“I love seeing patients progressing of course, but I also love being part of ending the stigma around mental health issues within the general public. It’s rewarding when you can teach someone about the different ways people are affected and that not everyone struggles in the same way. It’s also amazing to see how far a little empathy and understanding can go.”
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