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“Mental health nurses aren’t real nurses.” The amount of times this has been said to me by registered nurses while on placement is so often, that the self-deprecating jokes I follow up with are starting to sound rehearsed.
Shocking as it is, this is a common belief I’ve found among general nurses, both registered and students.
“What hurts more is when they don’t think you’re a real nurse”
The thing that shocks me is that people say it in such a way that makes you take a step back and question whether this is something that someone has just said to you. Particularly a registered nurse – someone who is meant to support, encourage and inspire you.
It questions that culture of fear that is being instilled in student nurses; that attitude you get when you’re a fresh-faced nurse with enthusiasm and energy, and our seasoned counterparts joke, “Get out while you still can!”
What hurts more is when they don’t think you’re a real nurse.
After being on a neurorehabilitation ward for a short time, I really appreciated the stark difference between the daily trials and tribulations of an adult nurse, and a mental health nurse. Neither one nor the other is harder, but the challenges are exerting in different ways.
Being on an adult ward, I was physically exhausted, more so than usual, which I didn’t think was possible. You are doing so many different things at once, a million and one procedures on a million and two patients.
The procedures are of course practical and medical, and although it is unlikely that I will ever need to take out catheters or cannula’s as a mental health nurse, I’m still trained in being able to do them. I also found that although the physical needs of patients were being met, their mental health needs were not being met as effectively.
In a mental health setting, you’re always assessing and interacting, being careful of what you say to certain people, as well as how you say it, the way you come off in tone and manner and how you behave. Even when patients aren’t nearby, they may be able to see you in the hallway or hear you next door.
Every unknown sound or interaction has adrenaline just coursing through you, you don’t know if that interaction will go badly, or if you’re going to need to intervene, or if one of the choices you make leads to a cup of tea being thrown in your face. The humiliation and fear that it’ll happen again staying with you. It is mentally exhausting.
We have to be clued up on all medication. Those who have mental health problems are much more likely to suffer some kind of physical ailment, so we are constantly learning about the effects on the brain, as well as body, and keeping tabs on any drug interactions. We depend on the BNF just as much as any nurse. We do just as much reading, researching and learning as any other nurse.
Just because we aren’t taking bloods or attending to personal care every day, does not mean we’re not medically trained. We don’t have that practice, but we follow the same code of conduct and need to have the same professional approach to our work. We are registered under the same professional organisation. We are all nurses, don’t forget that.
Sophia Ahmed is an MSc mental health nursing student at Edge Hill University