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  • 13 December 2018
  • 9 min read

The challenges I face as a newly qualified mental health nurse

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

As a newly qualified mental health nurse, Chloe is fresh to the nursing industry and has already seen the challenges that nurses face with a lack of resources, a lack of staff and a lack of funding. Read on to see how this affects nurses performance as a provider of care.

Play video: Chloe shares the challenges she faces as a newly qualified mental health nurse

‘I couldn't do that’ ‘I don't know how you do it’ is usually the first phrase out of someone's mouth when I tell them what I do.

I've only just graduated as a mental health nurse but my placements throughout the three years have already been a pretty good indicator of what's to come.

I know it's gonna be rewarding, I know that I love my job as a mental health nurse but the challenges and pressures that we as nurses face and that the NHS as a whole is facing likely to just keep increasing.

Working in any health care role, particularly in the current climate is challenging.

Between the financial years of 2009/2010 to 2020/2021 the budget for the Department of Health will have grown in field terms by about 1.2 percent.

This is significantly less than the 4% per year increase in spending that is actually required according to the Kings Fund, thus we as healthcare professionals are expected to continue to deliver the best care possible for our patients with less funding and less resources.

There are currently almost 40,000 nursing vacancies within England alone and the NMC, the nursing and midwifery council, is consistently losing more members per year than it's gaining.

The pressures that come with a lack of resources and staff

For me, role of a mental health nurse comes with its own set of pressures.

I get to work closely with patients who are quite often in crisis.

By the time my working relationship with them comes to an end they're in a much better place, so they won't be perfect don't get me wrong but maybe now they can go back to work or start working on repairing their relationship with their partner.

It could even be something as simple as just carrying out daily life activities that we take for granted without any support, you know anything like going to the shops to buy some food or preparing themselves a meal; something that they previously weren't able to do because they were in crisis.

'Nobody would ever say that nursing is an easy job and it's made even more difficult by the current political and economic situation within the mental health service and ultimately patients will be the ones that suffer most.'

The best thing you can do is just listen

If you would ask me what the most important skill is for a mental health nurse to have I would immediately say listening, and I mean really listening.

It's easy to listen to what someone says but quite often our patients and our service users will tell us a lot more than the words they actually say.

Despite being considered a soft skill by many I would argue it is the one thing in my metaphorical tool belt that I couldn't do without and I am guaranteed to need it on every single shift.

Usually we get patients that we refer to as ‘revolving door patients’ i.e. people who are frequently in and out of services.

For me, the fact that these patients are continuing to come back because they need our help means that our services have missed something. People wouldn't be coming in out of hospital with such frequency if we'd got it right.

Play video: Chloe talks about the potentially terrifying notion of nursing placements

Mental health nursing can be emotionally draining

In my role as listener I've heard some pretty harrowing things.

Whilst it's my job to sit and listen to people who choose to disclose information to me, I'm only human and it's a difficult balance because on one hand I feel honoured that someone feels comfortable enough with me to be able to share what are quite often awful things but on the other hand I'm not a robot and these issues can impact on my own mental health too.

Whereas most people would discuss a bad day at work with their partner, friends, family, you know whoever it is, it's a lot more difficult when you're a mental health nurse.

It's inappropriate to disclose confidential information about your patients, even if you feel like it's weighing you down and you need to talk about it.

To be able to sit and listen to someone who, for example, abuses substances talk about the spiralling path that has led them to where they are today, or a child talk about the horrific abuse that they've endured and to be able to walk away from that at the end of my shift and not break down into tears is a really difficult thing to do.

All people are individuals and you never really know how someone's gonna react when they've made themselves so emotionally vulnerable to you and even though you might have supported someone in a pretty similar situation previously that often doesn't make you any better equipped to handle the next situation because every person is an individual and everyone deals with situations in their own way.

Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time to give

The only thing harder than having to sit and listen to someone talk about these issues with me is desperately trying not to check your watch and you really don't want to do it.

Another issue is all the paperwork we have to do. Whilst it's an incredibly important part of the job, it means we get to spend less time with the patients who desperately need our help.

As a mental health nurse, your first priority is delivering the care and support your patient needs. I became a mental health nurse to help people, not to do copious amounts of paperwork.

But, if it isn't done then you're gonna start receiving those abrupt emails from team leaders and managers and when you are that short on time something's got to give, and the only thing that often can give is the time that you spend with people.

All the while the service is under such pressure. It's not gonna get any easier.

Although there's an immense amount of pressure, I still love my job

Nurses will continue to work under intense emotional pressure with very little time to process what they're hearing and doing but with all that said I still absolutely love my mental health nursing job and I feel very lucky to be in a job that I love doing.

I couldn't see myself doing anything else other than this, but it does really sadden me when I feel like I'm not giving my patients everything they deserve through no fault of theirs and no fault of mine.

'This is a really hard thing to deal with because I am someone who cares about people and cares for people and that's why I've gone into this profession.'

Being a mental health nurse certainly takes an emotional toll on me, I imagine it does for many others and I genuinely do wonder how long I'll be able to do this for, particularly if the current working conditions don't change for me.

A good supervision is the key to dealing with the emotional pressure that we put under on a daily basis.

Nobody would ever say that nursing is an easy job and it's made even more difficult by the current political and economic situation within the mental health service and ultimately patients will be the ones that suffer most.

My patients deserve the best help they can get, and that's what I set out to provide for them with the little resources I have.

To find out more, read and watch I chose mental health nursing in the face of growing pressures and find mental health nurse jobs here.

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About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.

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  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.