Speak up: My experience of mental health nursing
By Sarah Hughes
When I realised I needed help with postnatal depression, I was very poorly. My anxiety was at epic levels and I was unable to make sense of how I was feeling or what I could do.
A family intervention helped me make the call and within days I met Laura, a community psychiatric nurse from the perinatal mental health team.
I had worked in mental health for so long by then that I had developed an arrogant cynicism about whether anyone could help me. I imagined that they wouldn’t be able to tell me things I didn’t already know and, dare I say it, I was worried that a nurse coming from a medical perspective would miss all the other things about me.
I had worked in mental health for so long by then that I had developed an arrogant cynicism about whether anyone could help me.
I remember eyeing Laura with suspicion when she arrived at my house. I don’t think I was hostile but I know I wasn’t at ease. Laura came in, took her shoes off and joined me on the floor as my baby crawled about in between us. I waited for her to start by asking me about medication or risks, but she didn’t. Laura began by simply asking how I felt, it was obvious that she was kind, that her first interest was to hear from me about what was going on. No notes, no big assessment, just a conversation.
The assessment did come of course, but only after Laura had managed to create a therapeutic alliance with me. It happened quickly and before long I was telling her in candid detail about what I was thinking and feeling. I had imagined she would recoil in horror, but she didn’t blink in that frightened way, she smiled at me, she didn’t interrupt and when I had finished, she simply said: “You feel pretty rubbish and after the time you’ve had, I’m not surprised.” I wept with relief and again Laura sat and waited until all the tears dried up.
Laura came in, took her shoes off and joined me on the floor as my baby crawled about in between us. I waited for her to start by asking me about medication or risks, but she didn’t. Laura began by simply asking how I felt.
Before she left that day we came up with a six-month plan of weekly visits that we would review every month and I knew that I had someone firmly in my corner who was going to listen without judgement and a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in months, I felt hopeful.
Very early on we agreed that medication was not the right path for me. This was because I had to be alert at all times because of my daughter’s condition (MCADD, which meant three-hourly night feeds for the first year and sometimes half-hourly) and couldn’t afford even a short time adjusting to side-effects etc. So, we opted for talking, slow exposure to the outside world again and an open door if things felt bad.
I knew that I had someone firmly in my corner who was going to listen without judgement and a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in months, I felt hopeful.
Laura wouldn’t like me to call her an angel, she wasn’t all cuddly toys. Laura was (and still is of course) professional, compassionate and highly skilled. Without her I’m sure I wouldn’t have recovered in the way that I did. Don’t get me wrong, she would challenge me, she would find a way to get me out of the house when every bone in my body resisted, she made me laugh and cry. I knew CPNs were important already, and I had met some brilliant ones during the course of my work. But my own experience helped me understand that they were not all about medication and risk.
Laura is professional, compassionate and highly skilled. Without her I’m sure I wouldn’t have recovered in the way that I did.
When I went back to work after a year off for maternity leave, Laura continued to see me for another couple of months. Having her there through this transition was so important. I had recovered, but we needed to make sure it was sustainable. It was. And for my second pregnancy, Laura and I only saw each other once then and agreed I was ok (tired, but ok). I’ve still got the letter from her when I was discharged and I know that she was pleased for me, genuinely so, and I hope she knows how grateful I am.
I’ve seen her since with other mums out and about. We might trade knowing glances but I don’t interrupt: if she’s helping someone else then I want that woman to have what I did, uninterrupted and non judgemental care. I was lucky, I got that in spades.
This blog originally appeared in the Mental Health Nursing Magazine, and was featured in the @MHNursingFuture blog
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