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Mental health nursing

Mental health nursing as a career choice – Ben Hannigan & Nicola Evans

29 April 2019

How to describe what mental health nurses do? That’s a challenging question, and one that underpinned a recent review of the work of graduate and registered mental health nurses, Playing Our Part. This made the case for the person-centred work of nurses, involving the skilled provision of face-to-face care. More recently, here in Wales a ten year Framework for Mental Health Nursing was published on the first-ever Mental Health Nurses Day, 21 February 2019. Included in this document is a series of good practice examples showcasing the innovative work of nurses in practice, education and research.

One common feature of the work of all practising mental health nurses is that what they do involves providing support to people experiencing psychological distress. This can be to adults or children, and can involve direct help to people experiencing unhelpful or unwanted thoughts or feelings and support to their family or carers. Mental health nurses can be found in a range of settings, including hospitals, health centres, people’s own homes, schools, prisons, and in outreach services for people who are homeless. They may work independently or (more usually) in teams with other mental health professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and occupational therapists as well as with peer support workers. Mental health nurses may find themselves liaising with people in a range of other agencies such as the police, the charitable or third sector, and with teachers and other professionals in the education system. In addition to their work as providers of direct support to people living with mental health difficulties and their carers, mental health nurses are often found as coordinators of care. This involves helping people who use services to navigate their journeys through the health and social care system, making sure that plans are kept up-to-date and are regularly reviewed by members of the interprofessional team.

For those wanting to know more about mental health nursing as a career the Royal College of Nursing has produced a helpful short video, Keep It in Mind, which offers insights into mental health nursing from a number of different perspectives. The organisation Mental Health Nurse Academics UK has also produced this guide on becoming a mental health nurse. Here in Cardiff University, the School of Healthcare Sciences offers a three year undergraduate BN Hons degree in Mental Health Nursing, completion of which leads to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Research in the School of Healthcare Sciences is organised through three themes, and has a strong focus on generating new knowledge to inform improvements in health care practice and services across the age range. Examples of ongoing mental health research projects led by or otherwise involving Cardiff mental health nurse academics include a new study, funded by the National Institute of Health Research, which is developing services for children and young people with common mental health problems (Nicola Evans) and a project synthesising the evidence in the area of end of life care for people with severe mental illness (Ben Hannigan, Deborah Edwards, Paul Gill, Sally Anstey).

Dean Whybrow is completing a doctorate on the health and wellbeing of military veterans, and with Ben Hannigan is part of a team investigating a novel therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ongoing postgraduate research degrees in the mental health field, involving supervision provided by Cardiff mental health nurse academics, include: Alicia Stringfellow’s investigation into the experiences of mothers who live with and care for an adult son or daughter with schizophrenia; Nicola Savory’s study into perinatal mental health experiences and care; Gavin John’s examination of the risks to education, family and friends for young people admitted to inpatient mental health services; Bethan Edwards’ creation of an occupational therapy intervention for people with early dementia; and Fortune Mhlanga’s study of recovery in practice.