Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Great and the Small

Trying to catch up on some blog reading, I came across an article today written by Bipolarmo on Mental Nurse, entitled Sleeping with the Enemy. It’s about the stigma surrounding mental health - in mental health. In the one place where you would expect to find understanding, some nurses clearly have a poor attitude towards those with mental health problems. It seems that on some wards, if one of the staff members suffers* from mental health problems they fail to gain respect from their co-workers and become something of a laughing stock. Such an attitude towards fellow workers with mental health issues is obviously a reflection of how they feel about people with mental health problems in general, and raises the very serious question of whether such ones should work in mental health.

I've seen this “them and us” attitude in nurses on the ward myself. They wrongly presume that they are immune to the possibility of ever having mental health problems of their own, and view themselves as superior to such “weakness”. As Bipolarmo so rightly points out, how is an attitude like that supposed to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health? Why do some nurses still have this archaic attitude? Did they get their training from cave walls? If mental health staff haven't realised by now that the patients are neither “stupid” nor “weak” then how can we expect the general public to understand?

I think that people who have experienced mental health difficulties themselves would undoubtedly make very good psychiatric nurses - certainly they would be very approachable. In my experience, people with mental health problems are often intelligent; sensitive to peoples needs; gifted, and deep thinkers. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me feel to know that some people who are trained to help these ones view them with such contempt. Do they view people with physical diseases this way? In reality, some of the patients on psychiatric wards are more intelligent and often more gifted than many of the nurses. Rather than looking at people with mental health problems with disdain, nursing staff should feel humbled realising that mental illness, like any other illness, knows no boundaries and can affect the small and the great alike.

You know, when Mr Man was first in hospital we both had such a traumatic time, both with coming to terms with his illness, and with coping with the attitudes of some of the staff. One day this girl smiled at me and started chatting. She asked me how Mr Man was doing, and then asked how I was coping. I was shocked because Mr Man had already been on the ward for quite a while and she was the first person to ask me that. Do you know who she was? She was a patient who had just been moved to the Acute ward from ICU. She went on to tell me that when she is well again she wants to work in mental health. I sincerely hope that she has achieved her goal.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007

*I use the term “suffers” meaning someone who has previously suffered, or someone with a diagnosis of mental illness which is obviously under control, allowing them to function as well as any other individual who may occasionally have recurring problems with a physical condition, such as a back problem.


Roses said...

I once had coffee with a man in mental health, as in he was a nurse, and quite frankly he had more Issues than I have had cappuccinos.

I came across your blog while visiting Inspector Gadget and I've been popping in to have a quick read every now and then. I must admit I am really impressed by your courage, committment and fortitude. Mr Man is very lucky to have you.

Slurry said...

We have had something like that happen around here, a young woman who had been under the services for a number of years,became well and went off and done her nurses training, when she returned to the unit on a placement, she was belittled, laughed at and basicly driven off the ward, I think she continued her training. I just think the nurses feel the fear that she would have been a darn fine nurse and put them to shame.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Hi Roses, welcome to my blog and thanks for posting.

I always find that the people who profess to be "sane" are the ones with the most issues; one of the most common ones being fear of man, and the need to impress.

Thank you very much for your kind comments Roses.

I agree with you Slurry; that and the fact that she would have realised where they were slipping up and not doing their job properly. I hope she found a better placement and succeeded in becoming a nurse.

Catherine said...

When I was on the ward, several people expressed interest in working in the mental health field and the nurses aides encouraged them to go for it. I wonder though if the same positive attitude would take place once they were actually on the ward as staff.

Mr Mans Wife said...

It's good to hear that the staff were so encouraging. In the comments of the original post on Mental Nurse others have witnessed the same positive attitude. It's a shame it's not like that everywhere.

Thanks for your comment Catherine.

Squash said...

I've had mental health problems in the past, and I'm planning to study to become a mental health nurse. I was accepted to Manchester this year, but have been forced to defer (apparently I'm too mental to do the course at the moment). I'm going to work really hard on keeping myself 'ok' this year, so that hopefully I can do my studies in 2008.

I do hope that my experieces will make me a better nurse. I do worry about staff attitudes towards me though, as some of my mental health problems have left me with very visible, physical scars, so it will be easy to see that I have a past (doesn't everyone?)

I stiil read and love your blog, thank you for writing it. Thank you for letting the world know that there are kind, patient, loving people out there. You're a star.


Mr Mans Wife said...

Squash, thank you so much for your very touching comments.

Yes, I would agree, everyone has a past. The question is: has the person learnt from the experience and grown as a person? In your case I would guess the answer is Yes, which is why you feel moved to help others who find themselves in similar situations to your own.

I think patients will feel drawn to you. You may have already experienced the community spirit between patients on a ward, and your presence as a nurse will help to break down those barriers that sometimes exist between patients and staff.

I sincerely hope that your studies go well, and that you find a placement where your qualities are appreciated.

Thanks again for your comments.

papple said...

I was talking to an inpatient on the ward that I am on yesterday,we were talking about previous jobs etc,why we were doing what we were doing now and so on, (qualifications needed to do our relevant jobs etc).Their line of conversation angled at / implied they may consider some sort of mental health care role in this point the ward seemed to hush....... a few staffs faces looked like bulldogs licking something nasty off a get the idea...... you could almost hear some of the staffs cogs going into overtime......sad really when someone with a real experience of MH illness could be invaluable and provide a better insight that 'normal' folk could only guess at.

Mr Mans Wife said...

I agree with you Papple; their own experience would give them insight on so many levels.

Am I right in presuming that you work in Mental Health? If so, how do you feel about the other posts, regarding lack of services and help in the community?

papple said...

In my local area community based care (Assertive Outreach,Crisis teams EI CPN etc) has had a big push over the last 24 mths (a lot of staff comings and goings , managers who know what they are doing etc)and has seemed to stop the revolving door scenario in/out of hospital for some folk.

To a degree the 'old school' has been moved out and service provision seems to have improved. I agree that some CPN team memberss etc seem to take the route of least resistance and basically seem not to give a stuff regarding providing best care (only perhaps providing the minimum possible,waiting to deteriation has gone so far as only option is to admit to a degree out of their hair at least for the time the client spends in hospital)

I am aware that some out of hosptital care falls well short of what is needed/ expected

In my (very limited) experience of community care with a good team of elderly CPNs I found they were running to stand still, experienced, willing and wanting to do the best possible but restricted by seemingly silly large case loads,red tape (working closely with social services means duplicated paperwork for the same intervention as healthcare and social care dont work off the same systems..ho ho),pressure to reduce waiting lists,'neccesary' paperwork /computorised systems that is repetative, and offers little to enhance client care and seems to only serve to protect the Trust from litigation, various directives/ Policy regarding service provision that seem to hinder rather than help........all this 'crap' as one CPN delicately put it is preventing her from being out and assessing her clients providing support, etc on a more regular basis which:
'upsets her greatly'*

* not actual terminology originally used :)

Mr Mans Wife said...

I agree that the work of a CPN can't be easy with so much paper work to complete and so many "clients" verses CPN's.

It's good to know that services have improved in your area. The CPN you mention sounds really down to earth and caring.

s said...

I know this is an old post but I just found your blog now. My gut feeling is that there are about as many people with mental illness in medicine as there are in the general population. But the stigma there is much, much greater. If I ever write about this in a book, it will be called, "All I Learned About Stigma I Learned In Medical School."

Best wishes.

Mr Mans Wife said...

I agree with you S.

I found the drama/documentary "The Doctor who Hears Voices" very interesting, and I'm sure this is not an isolated case, but obviously there is great fear that they could lose their job if they admitted their symptoms.

Thank you for your comment.