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  • 26 October 2017
  • 2 min read

Why I became a Mental Health Nurse

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Cath Coleman describes what motivated her into becoming a Mental Health Nurse (RMN).

'Simply giving her my time allowed her to open up, and revealed a different side that we hadn’t seen on the ward.'

Twenty years ago, I began my journey to becoming a Registered Mental Health Nurse (RMN).

In that time, I've worked with highly skilled and dedicated nurses, witnessed the highs and lows of mental illness, and met some truly inspirational people who have overcome huge obstacles in their lives.

This has made me reflect on why I became a RMN, and why I've continued working on acute admission wards for so many years.

As a 19-year-old student nurse, I had visions of working on medical wards, caring for the sick and injured. The prospect of the upcoming mental health ward placements terrified me.

I survived my first mental health placement in an elderly day centre, but still had no intention of entering the field until I had a medical ward placement that opened my eyes to my personal and professional priorities in caring for others.

Play video: RMN Chloe offers advice on mental health nursing placements

During handover, the nurses talked about the difficult patient in the side room and my mentor advised me not to go in there as she would be too challenging for me as a first-year student.

I vowed to avoid that room, and spent the next few shifts making sure I was always too busy with other patients until eventually, I could not avoid her any longer.

She was rude and hostile, but as I had time, I spoke to her whilst attending to her needs.

The conversation came around to her family and how they hadn’t visited her in hospital. She became upset, and opened up about how lonely she felt, with no visitors, no cards or flowers, and the nurses too busy to talk to her.

She wasn't a difficult patient, just a lonely woman who needed someone to listen.

Simply giving her my time allowed her to open up, and revealed a different side that we hadn’t seen on the ward.

That interaction made me choose to train as an RMN. Not because general nurses were uncaring, but because they are so busy and often unable to spend time with patients just talking and understanding their social and psychological needs.

As an RMN, I am available day and night to talk to my patients, help them make sense of their thoughts, feelings and their illness.

We are there to simply listen when they need a friendly ear, and allow them to confide their innermost thoughts that they are unable to discuss with loved ones.

This makes my job as a mental health nurse so special and worthwhile, and I have been fortunate enough to experience this throughout my career and hopefully for many more years to come even though the number of mental health nurses have dropped.

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About the author

A registered mental health nurse since 2000. I've worked in a medium secure forensic mental health facility, agency work, in an Auckland prison with inmates presenting challenging mental health problems as well as in Australia. I'm now back working in the NHS and have recently completed my MSc Public Health and plan to move into mental health nursing research in the near future.

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