Looking after our RMNs
Many people are drawn to the role that is being a mental health nurse. Compassion, care and dynamicity are all pivotal to this career – with a wide variety of potential patients, demographics and conditions to work amongst. For example, RMN’s treat patients with acute and chronic conditions, care for those in the community, can care for younger people with mental health issues and even provide care for those dealing with substance misuse issues. As the nature of the job can be quite stark and upsetting, RMNs receive training which helps them to fully support the patient and their team. Recently, there has been a 15% drop in the number of new RMNs in the last 10 years, with professionals fearing that the role may be affecting RMNs more than previously thought.
In undertaking the role, being able to make fast decisions, act with compassion and remain calm are all vital. However, in situations which are emotionally sensitive – particularly with younger patients and those who are vulnerable, an inevitable impact can be felt by those caring for the patient. There have been reductions in the number of mental health positions and RMNs on care teams, placing further strain on the teams. It is thought that some of this reduction may come from stretched systems, lack of care support and strain on the individual nurses, coupled with the sometimes harrowing situations which arise in the field. Interestingly, those caring for others’ mental health in medical and clinical situations may neglect their own or consider it unimportant, potentially leading to further stress and negative associations with their role ‘topping up’ their own personal emotional issues.
In the working environment, RMNs may have to provide unbiased, non-judgemental care to those who present difficult behaviour or challenging cases, such as criminals and sex offenders. Merely being in the presence and having to aid those in these situations can be difficult and provides a barrier of stress and unease to the nurse treating the patient. Thus, it requires good personal headspace and boundaries to be able to treat the case as ‘work’ and not incur any personal emotional reaction. Furthermore, dealing with distressing cases such as self-harm or those who are suicidal can be extremely difficult – and especially for those who have newly joined the role. However, if there are higher staffing levels, it means those in these situations have less ‘contact time’ with the difficult cases and can have breaks to withdraw from the event. This prevents stress and burn out by keeping a fresh perspective on even the most difficult situations.
Nurses and new recruits are often assigned a supervisor who they can talk to about their progression in the role, but also gain guidance and support around any difficult events or situations they encounter. However, with a lack of adequate supervision, those in this role may begin to find themselves struggling with the reality of some of the more difficult cases. Of course, an easier method to counteract this would be to have adequate staffing – which is seen as a challenge in the light of the ongoing shortage of qualified nurses. Therefore, the onus often lands on the individual to look after their own mental health, yet it can be challenging to do this when not empowered by employers or society at large.
RMNs looking to take time for themselves and detach from the stress of their role can use techniques like exercise therapy, meditation and indulging in some of their favourite activities away from their role. Seeking supervision and help at work should be a priority if they feel they are struggling, and it is vital to have that support within the role. Although RMNs may be experts in their field, it may be hard to notice issues arising in themselves, particularly in the perspective of treating other people. However, neglecting these aspects inevitably can lead to career burn out and the drop in new nurses taking up the role. External courses, support from other health professionals and counsellors in public and private organisation, and self empowerment can all lead to a much healthier work-life balance, and negate the impact of difficult tasks at work to your personal stress levels.