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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