Mental health nursing – I’ve never looked back.

Jane Padmore, Executive Director of Quality and Safety (Chief Nurse), Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and board member of NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

At the age of 18, I had received my A-level results and was disappointed with what I had achieved. My mum’s friend saw, in the waste-paper basket, an advert for a healthcare assistant and fished it out, suggesting I apply.

That simple act of thoughtfulness changed the course of my life and introduced me to the world of mental health nursing.  Within weeks of being there the manager encouraged me to apply to be a mental health nurse and I’ve never looked back. I could have never of imagined, and I certainly had no concept at school, of what mental health nursing is, or could be. I also think that, when I started my training 29 years ago, I had no idea about the breadth and diversity within the profession.

I believe that being a mental health nurse is extraordinary and a privilege. I still remember the names and faces of service users who have made themselves vulnerable with me. Sharing intimate stories from their lives to me; a stranger who has met them in their home and on the wards, when they are at their most vulnerable.

We are there when their liberty is taken away, we are there when they are scared, we are there when they are sad; and we are there when they recover. What we do and how we are matters. Service users have taught me so much and have been part of forming who I am, as a nurse and a person.

Mental health nursing covers the life span and I have been able to work with people as they start a family and welcome a new baby into their life, right the way through to the end of life. Mental health nurses can work clinically, academically, in education and research, in leadership and managerially. Or even combination of all these things. I truly believe that if it interests you, there will be a home in mental health nursing for you.

I remember a newly qualified nurse, who went to work in a psychiatric intensive care unit and just could not settle. He felt a failure, so we helped him to move to an acute in-patient ward. Again, he was not able to settle and he talked to me about how he was thinking of leaving the profession; he felt is it just wasn’t for him.

As we sat talking, I could hear his sadness; after he had put so much effort into training he was just going to give up.

So, we explored what gave him joy and satisfaction and realised that, although he had thought the acute side of care was for him, actually rehab was much more in line with what he wanted to achieve.

Off he went to work in rehab where he thrived.

He’d found his home in mental health nursing.

I honestly believe that the variety of work in mental health nursing means that finding the right place might take some time, but it is possible.

Different service areas and working across the age range brings variety but, what I love about mental health nursing is the philosophy of shared decision making with the service users and their families or carers, to achieve their recovery goals. Not to cure them or to be there as an expert imparting our knowledge; but to be alongside them, understand the service users’ experience and share our experience and knowledge while working in partnership with them.

I love that mental health nursing means that we can be creative and innovative, with individual service users, with in teams or setting up teams. I never thought that investigating a serious incident would lead to a doctorate and then a scholarship which enabled me to go to America to explore the treatment options for young people in street gangs. I came back full of ideas, resulting in starting a service and running groups for adolescents convicted of gang related crime. 

Being a mental health nurse is challenging, it pulls at your heart strings, it changes you. Being a mental health nurse offers a wide and varied career, of which the public have very limited knowledge. Being a mental health nurse is a privilege. Being a mental health nurse is a being part of a profession of which I’m proud to be a part.