I always wanted to work in a job that was different every day, helps other people, and would allow me to travel with my qualifications. Originally, this was going to be midwifery, but when I went to university open days, it just wasn’t doing it for me, so I popped my head into one of the lectures on mental health. That definitely seemed more me. I’ve now been a registered nurse for four years.
Nothing prepares you for your first day as a qualified nurse. University and placements were helpful and gave me great insight into the job, but when you’re the only nurse on shift, the weight of responsibility hits you hard. There’s a huge sense of “Oh god, what do I do now?” It took me a good six months to feel comfortable in running the shift, and able to delegate to people who were older than me and had worked there for years.
I started my career in child and adolescent mental health, and worked in that area for about fifteen months. It was a really intense, and often very emotional experience, particularly as some of the patients were close to my own age.
I now work in perinatal mental health on an inpatient unit, working closely with women who are experiencing postnatal depression or postpartum psychosis, and I help them to care for their newborns. It’s a really emotional job, and one of the most difficult parts is seeing how broken and confused families are when they realise their partner and new baby are going to have to stay in hospital. We care for a lot of patients from all over the UK too, as it’s a specialist service, so many families can only visit their loved ones once a week, which is difficult.
For a lot of the women on the ward, this is their first experience of being mentally “unwell”, and that, coupled with the presence of a brand new baby, is really challenging. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding perinatal mental health, and that can be one of the toughest things the women on our ward face.
Facebook would have us believe that having a baby is rosy and sweet, but in reality, one in four women experience postnatal depression, and one in a thousand will experience postpartum psychosis. It’s something we need to talk about more, to alleviate the shame and stigma surrounding what’s already a tough time for women and their families.
A typical day on the ward would see me starting at 7am, coffee in hand, receiving a handover from the night staff. Then, it’s onto the morning medication round and filling in all the tedious paperwork. We spend a large proportion of the day feeding, changing and cuddling babies – which is always nice – as well as spending one-to-one time with the mums on the ward. Sometimes we’ll go for a chat in the lounge, or for some fresh air, or for a cuppa at a local cafe. Of course, if someone is particularly poorly, or needs a high level of observation, that routine goes out the window.
I think the most common misconception about my job is that everyone is “crazy” and people always tell me that I must be so brave to do what I do. Yes, it is challenging and sometimes scary, but for the most part, I’m just talking to normal, everyday people who are going through a terrible time and need a bit of extra support and TLC. The most aggression I’ve ever experienced was from a frail, eighty-year-old woman who didn’t want me to help her get dressed; hardly a terrifying experience.
The job isn’t easy; there are long hours, with little time for food or rest. When you’re working with mentally unwell patients, they’re going through a rough time, and sometimes they take it out on you, so there can be days when you’ll be spoken to like crap all day. I’m a big wimp when it comes to blood, so the worst part of the job for me would have to be if I’m the only nurse on the shift and someone self-harms. But seeing a mother go home well and excited about life with her new bundle of joy is well worth the intensity of the journey to get her there.