Mental health nursing makes a difference other careers can only dream of

I began working in mental health nursing purely by chance. I was a young mum with a young baby, and first and foremost I needed to work to take care of us both. As luck – or destiny – had it, mental health was my first placement and I have never looked back.

The first thing that struck me was the compassion of the nurses there who had the ability to see these patients as people and not define them by their illness. My ambition since then has always been to the same – to be an advocate for people who don’t have any care or a voice of their own.

From the beginning I have always worked with the most vulnerable and stigmatised groups. At times this can be challenging; and at others it can be heart breaking; but the difference we can make to people and their families in my view is unparalleled anywhere else.

I recently joined Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, as the new national lead for mental health nursing. This demonstrates her commitment to mental health nursing and recognition of the importance and unique contribution our nurses make.

My remit is to provide the very best care we can for people with mental health issues. I believe the best way to do this is to have a highly skilled and supported mental health workforce, with mental health nurses being the largest group. The NHS Long Term Plan contains priorities for mental health for which nurses are pivotal but despite this and the largest investment in mental health for decades, we are still watching a decline in mental health nurse numbers.

So, I will be working to raise the profile of mental health nursing and ensure the complexities and the rewards of doing what we do are understood. We are working with partners in Health Education England and our mental health team, to find solutions to attracting new talent, and keeping the best we already have.  We need to reach people from diverse backgrounds, people considering their undergraduate choices; people with life skills to bring to a new career. Wherever they work, we need to make sure our teams are equipped with the unique skills it takes to work in mental health. Skills like building therapeutic relationships and delivering person centred bio-psychosocial interventions are those we need to see developed in preceptorship and in advanced practice beyond this.  And we need to increase research to develop best practice and the role of mental health nursing in the future.

Mental health nursing found me, and I have loved every minute.  It’s the reason I get up in the morning, and the reason I still practise clinically. Although I now have a new strategic role, I am not ready to give up patient contact. My work keeps me motivated and grounded, and in touch with the everyday issues that affect our patients and face our workforce.

In the #Yearof theNurseandMidwife mental health nursing has the chance to be seen and be heard for the complex, brilliant and rewarding career it is. Let’s join forces to do all we can to celebrate and pave the way for mental health care now and in the future.

Find me on twitter @NursingEmma

Emma Wadey

Emma Wadey RN MH, Head of Mental Health Nursing, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Emma is a mental health nurse with over 20 years’ experience across a wide range of health, emergency care and criminal justice settings. Maintaining clinical practice throughout her career has always been a priority and Emma continues to work as a consultant nurse in a local psychiatric liaison service. With lived experience of the impact of suicide she has focused her clinical work on the treatment of complex trauma, self-harm and suicidality.

An early adopter of recovery-based approaches to suicidal behaviours, Emma co-produced teaching packages on how to support and treat those with suicidality and helped develop the first ever suicide prevention app, StayAlive. More recently she contributed to the development of the competency framework for self-harm and suicide as part of the expert advisory group, is a national clinical adviser for the Mental Health Service Improvement Programme and clinical lead for the National Nurse Retention Programme.

In the throes of a mid-life crisis Emma took up marathon running and is pursing completion of all six of the Abbots World Major Marathon series. With four completed already she is taking 2020 as a year off to build some speed!


  1. Lucy Colwell says:

    Thanks for sharing Emma, what a lovely read. Indeed it is an incredible job to be able to do and an honour to be able to care with those who are stigmatised and vulnerable.

    Sometimes I feel that our work is only just beginning as we witness the continued degradation and dehumanising that leads to distress for so many people and it is because of this that…..

    I am grateful for you and all our mental health nursing community. Human connection, commitment to recovery and authentic reflexivity are values that sustain us everyday.

    Thank you

  2. Di Santo Patrizia says:

    Thank you Emma and all the Mental Health Nurses in the NHS. You do a great job and you are the most compassionate, understanding and committed people I have ever met. I am a parent and the support I have been given in the past five years during which my daughter has been battling with mental health has been unforgettable. I have seen nurses cry under the strain of the job but they just wipe their tears and go back to being amazing. I just wish there were more resources invested in mental health. I don’t think many people appreciate that mental health issues consume the patient and the family too so more should be done to support recovery quickly. But this is not at all a criticism of the amazing work that nurses do to make people better with what resources they have. They make the best use of them. With all my heart I thank you.

  3. baroness Watkins of Tavistock says:

    A great piece well done. Mary Watkins