Senior Community Mental Health Nurse
I qualified in 2008 and began my nursing journey working in various inpatient units, latterly working in an Older Adults Acute setting. I really loved my time there and hadn’t considered community nursing at that point. I always thought if I’m content then why change anything? I was presented with an opportunity to undertake continued professional development. Firstly, I studied recovery and self-management and then crisis intervention master’s modules at Dundee University, and it was whilst doing these that I met Jacqui Dillon, and everything changed. Jacqui is the National Chair of the Hearing Voices Network, and it was her personal story that ultimately inspired me to move into community nursing. Afflicted by psychosis relating to trauma Jacqui used her experience to become a campaigner for others who had similar experiences. Her story resonated with me and for the first time I did not feel fully content in my role, I had the impetus to move forward and make a change. Only by moving out to the community could I see a person within their own environment, see the complications they might face in their normal routine and support them to move forward fully. This development was a way to gain another perspective and build my experience. When management was setting up the Community Enhanced Assessment and Support Team in Dunfermline, I was approached to be part of the development, it seemed like a natural next step. I was privileged to help set up the Team and have been working in the community ever since.
Older adults are living longer with more complex health issues. As life progresses it can be difficult for someone to cope with change and loss. The team I am part of supports people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and for varying reasons feel acute distress. It’s my job to be by someone’s side, offering my skills and knowledge to ease them through their acute experience. A time that can be confusing or frightening for them. Many of the people we support also suffer from dementia, have complex physical health needs, challenging environments or past traumas. As a nurse, I am often a brand-new person in their life which makes asking the right questions key. By using intuitive listening, I find ways to build relationships with individuals, their families and other professionals and at the same time keep the ultimate focus in mind – the person at the centre. Even with people who are advancing through their dementia journey, it is very possible for them to be present with you. By listening I can glean useful insight into their life and their condition. The expertise comes with being able to identify very subtle prompts. My job is then to decode that life story, working closely with that person to fill in any gaps. I am there as a health care professional but more importantly building a human connection to offer hope and help the person feel valued.
Go for it! You will be inspired; you will learn so much about yourself and the other people around you. As a human you get the privilege to experience the whole gamut of emotions and becoming a mental health nurse allows you to help others cope with life’s challenges. There are now the right support structures in place for people to step into the community directly. Although there might be a higher level of risk associated with community nursing, particularly with mental health, as newly qualified nurses you will now have the guidance of experienced practitioners. You will face multi-faceted and unexpected issues, but it is always worth it. Knowing that your influence has helped someone who felt overwhelmed and vulnerable, connecting and inspiring each other as you work together changes you and opens up your mind and heart to the value of human experience.
My professional personality is tenacious, confident and strong. I have become more confident in promoting positive change. Not only when advocating for the people I support in the community but through being brave and bold in sharing my own views and opinions. I realise the importance of speaking up and not being afraid to take bold steps, always with the aim of helping the people I support to have a voice.
The programme has also given me permission to take a step back and be kinder to myself. I was never a morning person and still like sitting up late to watch movies, but by scheduling things I want to do in the morning, like yoga or walking the dogs, I’ve found a way to spring out of bed. I have a wellness menu that takes me through the entire day. At work, I’ll have lunch and may disappear into a book. At night-time, I do a little bit of meditation and write down three things that I’m grateful for. Life is about being bold, grateful and kind. I must protect my time to ensure I can continue to grow and shine.
Within mental health nurse training, you are taught the importance of listening and it is a continual aspect of how you develop your expertise. Listening is not something that people do naturally, and you have to practice. I thought I was good at it until I went on the Queen’s Nurse programme. It made me realise what it is to truly hear another person, whether a patient, personally or professionals I work alongside.
What shines through most of all is that the programme really becomes part of who you are. I don’t just apply what I’ve learned to my career but to my whole life. I couldn’t imagine not having done it, I have absorbed so much and this experience and the ongoing connections will live with me forever.
Mental health nursing makes you creative, it’s a creative outlet. Even though I don’t sing or paint my personality shines through in my individuality and how I present myself, this included my clothing and facial expression. During COVID we have changed to wearing a uniform and masks. It was more difficult to exude the same self-image and personal creativity under these restrictive layers. Stepping into someone’s world helps promote person-centred care and a clinical appearance in your home can be disquieting.
When COVID hit we were one of the only services fully up and running in the community however the most significant impact was on the older adults we support. People with dementia or other mental health difficulties can lack the same awareness and insight into the world around them. When services had to shut down there was suddenly a complete lack of support impacting what is already an epidemic of loneliness for older adults in our communities.
Connection on the QNIS WhatsApp group and Teams catch up has been so important to keep me going. Other Queen’s Nurses being open and honest about the challenges they’re facing. I see myself as being generally laid back and relaxed, but the additional strain of COVID was forcing me to bring work home. Thankfully I now have the mental tools to offload these concerns in a safe space. I told my coach that I would not have known how to deal with the impact of COVID had it happened before the programme.