Tag Archives: mental health

A Mental Health Nurse in the General Hospital

MHCBelow is a copy of the blog post I was invited to submit at My Health Career. The website is targeted at high school and university students considering or pursuing a career in health, guidance officers, career development professionals, and others working in or with the health care sector.

To see the post where it was first published online, and/or to have a look around at the My Health Career website, please visit www.myhealthcareer.com.au/nursing/mental-health-nurse-paul-mcnamara

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A Mental Health Nurse in the General Hospital

Paul trying not to look too much like a goob.

Paul trying not to look too much like a goob.

Paul McNamara has extensive experience providing clinical and educative mental health support in general hospital and community clinical settings. He holds hospital-based, undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications, is Credentialed by the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN), and has been a Fellow of the ACMHN since 2007. Paul is a very active participant in health care social media, and is enthusiastic about nurses embracing “digital citizenship”. More info via his website meta4RN.com

There is an odd little sub-speciality of mental health services called “consultation liaison psychiatry”. This waffly, jargon-ridden mouthful of syllables is usually abbreviated to “CL”. What is CL? Easy – just think of it as “general hospital mental health”.

I’m a mental health nurse on a CL team. The only ward in the hospital I don’t visit is the mental health unit (the mental health unit already has heaps of mental health nurses – they don’t need me there). It’s the rest of the hospital I serve: the surgical wards, the medical wards and the maternity unit.

General hospital patients are more at risk of experiencing mental health problems than the general public – being sick is stressful. It works the other way around too: people who experience long-term mental health difficulties are more at risk of becoming physically unwell – being under lasting emotional stress can take a toll on the body.

Nurses, doctors, social workers and other allied health practitioners will phone CL when they have concerns about the mental health of a patient. Sometimes all that is required is a bit of information and clarification about medication or follow-up services available in the community – we do that over the phone. More often, we are asked to meet with the patient and determine what, if any, mental health matters can be sorted-out while they are in hospital.

The most common mental health problems experienced in the community are anxiety and depression – it’s the same in the general hospital – a lot of the people I meet with are experiencing either or both of these conditions. There are other mental health problems like eating disorders and deliberate self harm that sometimes require input from both the medical/surgical team and the mental health team concurrently. Helping-out with planning and providing support and care of these patients is a pretty big part of my job.

Sometimes it’s not the person in the pyjamas (the patient) who needs our support – sometimes it’s the communication, the systems and the clinical staff who benefit most from CL input. This can be in the form of structured education sessions or, more typically, in the form of supporting discussion, reflection and problem-solving on how best to meet the needs of the patient within the limited resources available in the hospital. In this aspect of the job, a CL nurse will try to help the clinicians involved step-back from the busyness and pressures of the hospital ward and take “a balcony view” of what is happening. By taking ourselves out of the chaos of a busy shift and calmly looking back at things with a bit of distance, sometimes we can see how we can “do business” in hospitals a little more constructively.

We also spend a lot of time “undiagnosing” (this is a “neologism” – a made-up word – I heard recently via Sydney psychiatrist Dr Anne Wand). The people we “undiagnose” the most are those who are experiencing grief. There can be a lot of grief in general hospitals, but we try to be careful not to confuse the emotions of grief (sadness, anger, temporary despair etc) with a psychiatric disorder. Grief emotions are often really uncomfortable but they are part of what makes us who we are. We don’t want to “psychiatricise” or “psychologise” the human condition. Grief is not something to be simply fixed; grief is a part of life – a difficult part of life – that is usually successfully navigated without psychiatric input. Support from loved ones and/or social workers and/or specific counselling services can help.

So, that’s an overview of what it is to be a mental health nurse in a general hospital. It’s a varied role where we spend nearly as much time with the general hospital nurses, midwives, allied health staff and doctors as we do with the hospital patients. The role involves direct clinical care, collaborating with colleagues and providing education. For more information on the speciality please visit my website or the consultation liaison nurses special interest group section of the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses website.

END

Print Version (PDF): CLnurse

Thanks to Amanda Griffiths of My Health Career for inviting me to submit this overview of consultation liaison nursing.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 2nd May 2014

 

Does the End Justify the Meanness?

Proposed changes to health funding in Australia’s 2014 Commonwealth Budget include direct costs (“co-payments”) to patients every time they see their GP or have pathology done, and an increase in the cost of prescribed medications. This extra revenue will be put towards medical research. Does the end justify the means meanness?

For some people with schizophrenia the only medication that keeps them well enough to stay out of hospital is clozapine. Clozapine was initially introduced in the early 1970s but was withdrawn within a few years because some people died while taking it. Although clozapine is the only effective antipsychotic for some people with schizophrenia, about 1% of those who take clozapine will develop agranulocytosis (a dangerous drop in white blood cells, especially neutrophils – the most abundant type of white blood cells). Left unrecognised and unmanaged agranulocytosis leaves people very susceptible to serious infections and, as happened back in the 1970s, can even lead to death.

Schizophrenia is a bugger of an illness. Onset of symptoms is nearly always in teenage years or early twenties. Schizophrenia is often misrepresented as split personality – that’s wrong – it infers that a person can choose or control their symptoms. The word schizophrenia has it’s roots in the Greek language, translated it means split mind – people do not choose to have a split mind. Symptoms vary between individuals, but very often people with schizophrenia will experience thought disorder (non-sequential, disorganised, confused thinking), delusions (beliefs, often unsettling and difficult to understand, that are not shared by others) and auditory hallucinations (sounds or voices that nobody else can hear, but which sound and feel very real to the individual experiencing them). If these symptoms are intense or frequent they can really make a mess of the individual’s ability to function successfully in school, university or the workplace. Consequently people with schizophrenia are over-represented amongst the unemployed and homeless.

before

Because schizophrenia is such a bugger of an illness and clozapine can be so effective at dampening-down the symptoms, in the early 1990s clozapine was made available again with some very strict protocols in place to keep the people taking it safer from serious side effects. When starting on clozapine blood tests are taken every week to check that the neutrophils/white blood cell counts don’t drop. It is built-in to the infrastucture of clozapine management – you can’t get a prescription until you’ve had a blood test and the doctor checks it against previous blood tests. If there are any problems with the blood tests the doctor will stop prescribing clozapine – no ifs, ands or buts. For about 1% of people the risk of agranulocytosis will outweigh the benefits of staying on clozapine.

For the person with schizophrenia taking clozapine this regular regime of blood tests, visiting the GP and getting a short-term prescription (there are no repeat prescriptions for clozapine) might be the difference between being in hospital and being at home, or (sometimes) being homeless and being at home. Once initial treatment is established, safe management of clozapine requires frequent blood tests, a new prescription every 4 weeks and regular visits to the GP.

The proposed budget changes include a $7 payment to see the GP, $7 fee for out-of-hospital pathology, and an additional $5 for each prescription medication. What are the benefits of making schizophrenia treatment more expensive? Are there any foreseeable problems?

after

We are being told by our government that Australia’s universal health coverage is not under threat. $7 to visit a GP costs the same as two beers says our treasurer. What a sneering, mean thing to say.

People with schizophrenia, like people with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other enduring illnesses, are already at a social and financial disadvantage. For the individual with schizophrenia whenever there is an increased intensity or frequency of delusions, auditory hallucinations and disordered thoughts they suffer terrible distress. The people who love and care for them share in this distress. Often an expensive hospital admission for a few weeks is required to bring the symptoms back under control and sort-out the social problems that a period of being out of touch with reality can cause: unpaid bills and rent may lead to loss of accommodation; neighbours, friends and family may be feeling uncomfortable having you home again; your self care and physical health may have deteriorated; your tobacco, alcohol and drug use may have increased; you may have come to the attention of the police.

Do the benefits of co-payments really outweigh the risks?

IMG_0511

Final Notes

On Monday 19th May 2014 Joe Hockey, Australia’s Treasurer, will be appearing on Q&A. I have submitted this two-part question:

For some people with schizophrenia the only medication that keeps them well enough to stay out of hospital is clozapine. 
Safe management of clozapine requires frequent blood tests, a new prescription every 4 weeks and regular visits to the GP. 
What are the benefits of making schizophrenia treatment more expensive? 
Are there any foreseeable problems?


You may have a question of your own for Mr Hockey, if so go to 
www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda

CoPayLogo2CoPayStories provides an avenue for patients and health professionals to share their perspective on the proposed GP co-payment – visit the website www.copaystories.com.au and/or follow @CoPayStories on Twitter.

For the purpose of this argument I’ve cited only one side-effect of one medication for one illness. I am aware that clozapine has more than one side-effect, and there are illnesses other than schizophrenia that require regular pathology, GP visits and prescriptions.

Thanks for visiting meta4RN: as always, you are welcome to leave feedback in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 17th May 2014

Short URL: http://meta4RN.com/meanness

Football, Nursing and Clinical Supervision

When I started this blog in September 2012 I made a half-joke that watching Adelaide play in the AFL can inform clinical practice (see Number 8 meta4RN.com/about).

Well, as it turns out, this is absolutely true. Please let me explain. 

 

The Adelaide Crows, like all elite sporting teams, spend a lot of time preparing to play. For those unfamiliar with Australian Rules Football (AFL) it’s a fast, free-flowing, physical game that is played weekly during the winter months. Here’s a sample of play:

A game of AFL is played over four quarters, each lasting approximately 30 minutes (nominally each quarter is 20 minutes, but the clock stops when the ball is out of play). So, any player who stays on the ground for every moment of the game will play for two hours.

Guess how much time the player spends preparing for that two hours.

Crows warm-up at training. From left, Jarryd Lyons, Ian Callinan, Daniel Talia and Taylor Walker. Picture: Sarah Reed via Herald Sun.

Crows warm-up at training. From left, Jarryd Lyons, Ian Callinan, Daniel Talia and Taylor Walker. Picture: Sarah Reed via Herald Sun.

Think about what goes into preparation: recovery from the previous game, keeping-up and improving fitness levels, practicing individual skills, practicing team skills, discussing and developing team strategies, having coaches give feedback on what you did well and what areas could be improved, developing on-ground leadership and communication skills, nurturing confidence in yourself and your team-mates, learning about the team you’ll be playing against next week. The list goes on.

My brother, Bernie McNamara, has seen the Adelaide Crows up-close and personal over the last few years. Bern says that typically during the season a player will have about 25 contact hours each week with the club, and be expected to do about 10 hours of preparation away from the club.

So, each week, a diligent AFL player will spend  about 35 hours preparing for no more than 2 hours play.

How does that preparation:work ratio compare for clinicians?

IMG_0423

It’s not just the explicit hands-on knowledge that counts, it’s also very important that we make time for thinking-about, discussing and reflecting on our clinical roles. Clinicians, like footballers, have a desire to improve, but we may have to fight for support to do so. As noted at a recent seminar regarding clinical supervision, “in a time of austerity, high caseloads and increasing problems, the organisation is often satisfied with a ‘good enough’ (work task) rather than seeking excellence. This tends to reduce supervision to a control function rather than aspiring to best practice.” Source: Talking about supervision: conversations in Bolzano and London 

I have written about clinical supervision previously (in “Nurturing the Nurturers” meta4RN.com/nurturers), but perhaps undersold it – some have commented that it seems like a feel-good exercise for clinicians. There’s more to it than that.

Clinical supervision is a key component in providing high quality services with positive outcomes for those who use health services. Clinical supervision promotes a well trained, highly skilled and supported workforce, and adds to the development, retention and motivation of the workforce. High quality clinical supervision also contributes to meeting performance standards, meeting the expectations of consumers/carers/families and goes a long way towards developing a learning culture in a changing health care environment. Source: ClinicalSupervision

Clinical supervision guidelines are very modest compared to the preparation:work ratio of AFL footballers. Clinical supervision requires nothing like the investment of 35 hours of preparation for 2 hours of play, instead, it’s something like 1 hour of preparation for every 80 or 160 hours of work.

Are nurses, midwives and other clinicians worth the expense?

I’ve been thinking about this tweet lately:

I’m wondering whether we can tweak that sign a little – maybe something like this:

The Financial Perspective: “We can’t afford to spend money on nurses and midwives sitting around talking, thinking and reflecting.”

The Patient Safety Perspective: “We can’t afford not to.”

IMG_0449

 

As always, your feedback/comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 27th April 2014

Trying to Stay Focused

PatientFocused Some days it feels like a cruel conspiracy.

Those are the days when it feels like the time and space I have made to speak one-to-one to the patient* is in the middle of a sports arena. The patient and I walk into the middle of the empty playing surface and make our preparations for meaningful discussion, for emotional catharsis, for education, for counselling, for disclosure, for discovery, for therapy.

Then the grandstands of the arena start filling with people with loud voices. These people are not providing frontline care, so we would like to think of them as supporters. However, they all seem to think of themselves as coaches. They each have their own special area(s) of interest and shout well-meaning advice from their seats in the grandstand.

It gets very rowdy and distracting. SystemsFocused So many supporters coaches. So many systems**.

Systems are what makes airlines so safe – apparently that’s why hospitals have become so system-focused over the last couple of decades. I think it is a bit silly that public health systems try so hard to align themselves with profit-making airline systems. The cost of a regional hospital redevelopment ($454m) is about the same cost as two Boeing 787s (source), However, they serve very different purposes: the hospital is filled with critically ill people aiming to become less unwell or die with dignity. Commercial jets are filled with tourists and business people going on a planned journey. The hospital is a place of unknowns: discovery, diagnosis, treatment, trials and strong, unpredictable human emotions. A commercial jet is a trumped-up bus that travels at a scheduled time on a scheduled route between clearly defined destinations, carrying only people who are wealthy and healthy enough to travel long distances.

Hospitals and airlines have such very different clients, expectations, control and outcomes – can they really teach-each other much about systems?

Nevertheless, I understand the rationale for systems, and will make no effort to argue against them. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if there was one healthcare system? As it stands in my workplace, the emergency department has a system (EDIS) that does not speak to the ICU system (MetaVision), which does not speak to the general hospital system (ieMR), which does not speak to the mental health system (CIMHA). And that’s just within one hospital – imagine how fragmented it gets when we start thinking of the primary healthcare and rural/remote outpatient sectors.

I understand that some of these systems, some of these competing demands, are very important – but not all of them are. For example, it is not important that a clinician spend time away from their patients to transpose a bit of information that is in one hospital system into another hospital system –  this is a matter of dumb systems.

Which is why nurses and other clinicians know that sometimes the safest, most compassionate, and most ethical thing to do is to turn their back on the distractions created by dozens of disjointed systems, and make the priority to simply be with the patient.

Why? Because we are trying to stay focused – patient focused.

*Clarification re using the word “Patient”

In mental health over the last couple of decades nomenclature has changed from “patient” to “client” to “consumer” or “service user”. I understand the rationale for this – it is to move away from the passive (i.e.: “patient” as someone that the “expert” diagnoses and fixes) to participant (i.e.: “informed “consumer” of a service). In my current role I provide mental health assessment, support and education in a general hospital – the people I see are, in this context, first-and-foremost medical/surgical/obsetric hospital inpatients. It is these people’s physical health that had them admitted to an acute general hospital as “patients”, hence my use the word here.

**All the systems named in the “Systems Focused” cartoon are real, as is the claim that using each one is VERY IMPORTANT.

Tech Tip

I used an easy-to-use iPad app called Notes Plus to draw the cartoons. As you can see, my artistic skills have pretty-much plateaued since kindergarten, as has my spelling. Nevertheless, I think the cartoon might have been a little better and a lot easier to draw if I had used a stylus – that’s what I would recommend if you plan to do something similar.

End

As always, your thoughts/feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 6th April 2014

Perinatal Mental Health Workshop Links and Resources

Previously for Perinatal Mental Health Workshops I have trickled-out the links and resources we refer to during the workshop via Twitter and Facebook.  It’s a nice idea, and has worked pretty well (for more information about this experiment in social media enhanced education please see the video below and/or this link: meta4RN.com/workshop).

However, it is pretty labour-intensive to pre-schedule each individual Tweet and Facebook post every time I facilitate a Perinatal Mental Health Workshop, so to save some mucking-around I’ll list the links and resources here.

The headings in red are not mutually exclusive – some links cross boundaries. The list/links will be updated PRN:

Guiding Clinical Practice

guidelines

2014 Cairns Perinatal Mental Health Workshops (follow the link for info about the workshops and for free registration) pmh.eventbrite.com.au

Australia’s Perinatal Mental Health Clinical Practice Guidelines www.beyondblue.org.au

Promoting Perinatal Mental Health Wellness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities (PDF from the book Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice; chapter 16 by Sue Ferguson-Hill) aboriginal.childhealthresearch.org.au/media/54907/chapter16.pdf

Perinatal Jargon Busting (get your head around the lingo) meta4RN.com/jargon

Using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (tips for midwives, child health nurses, Indigenous health workers and other clinicians) meta4RN.com/epd

Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale  (this version is online, anonymous, free and self-scoring) justspeakup.com.au/epds

Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Libguide (a very handy for researchers and clinicians) tpch.qld.libguides.com/PIMH

pnd-dadQueensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health (QCPIMH have some great resources) www.health.qld.gov.au/qcpimh

Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Nurse eNetwork (an email network hosted by the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses for nurses and midwives interested in perinatal and/or infant mental health) lists.acmhn.org/wws/info/perinatal-infant-mh

ACMHN Perinatal Mental Health Online CPD Program (a 3 module continuing professional development program which is open to Australian College of Mental Health Nurses members [free] and non-member nurses and midwives [$33 including GST]) www.acmhn.org/perinatal-elearning

Nurturing the Nurturers (info about guided reflective practice/clinical supervision as a self-care mechanism for health professionals) meta4RN.com/nurturers

For the Parent(s)

PANDA

Cairns Perinatal Mental Health Support Options google.com/?q=perinatal+cairns

Stay Connected, Stay Strong: Before and After Baby (cool DVD featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents). Borrow: lib.cairnslibrary.com.au Buy: www.health.qld.gov.au/qcpimh YouTube: http://youtu.be/CLsjgw8pvOA

Behind the Mask: The Hidden Struggle of Parenthood (DVD preview) http://youtu.be/FjqOqJLkyFs

PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association (for info and phone support) www.panda.org.au

How is Dad Going? (for fathers affected by perinatal anxiety/depression)  www.howisdadgoing.org.au

Pregnancy, Birth & Baby (24 hour info and support) www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au

beyondblue (lots of resources, including booklets regarding emotional health in pregnancy and early parenthood, some multilingual booklets) www.beyondblue.org.au

Black Dog Institute (info and resources re perinatal depression for women and men; presented in a different style to beyond blue’s info) www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Doc Ready (for those not sure how to start a conversation about mental health with your midwife, nurse or doctor? maybe building a checklist will help) docready.org

MindHealthConnect (good place to find trusted mental health programs, fact sheets, and to access urgent support via the red “Need Help Now?” button on each page) www.mindhealthconnect.org.au

pnd-mum-torres

Puerperal Psychosis

Information on Puerperal Psychosis (2010) by Dr Anne Sven Williams and Sue Ellershaw (be alert, not alarmed: a self-downloading DOC; the target audience for this is women/families affected by puerperal psychosis,  but many of us clinicians have also found it a useful adjunct to our formal education) www.wch.sa.gov.au

Puerperal Psychosis: A Carer’s Survival Guide (PDF by Craig Allatt: Craig’s partner experienced puerperal psychosis) www.wch.sa.gov.au

Keeping Baby In Mind

Print

A Monster Ate My Mum (a children’s book looking at postnatal depression through a child’s eyes) amonsteratemymum.wordpress.com

Still Face Experiment (Edward Tronick’s demonstration of how infants respond to changes in interaction from primary caregivers is often cited in infant mental health education) youtu.be/apzXGEbZht0

Baby Cues Video Guide (trying to work-out what newborns are trying to communicate can be tricky; these video guides might help) raisingchildren.net.au

Circle of Security (re attachment theory and affective neuroscience) circleofsecurity.net

Raising Children Network (an Australian resource for parenting, covers newborns to teens) raisingchildren.net.au

wellbeing

That’s all I have on my list for now. Please add your suggestions for valuable links and resources to share at my Perinatal mental Health Workshops in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 7th February 2014

Cyclone: Alert, Not Alarmed

Dear Mum and Dad (and anyone else who is interested),

outlookIn a couple of days you may see on the news that a cyclone has spun-up out in the Coral Sea. At the time of writing the cyclone is predicted but not named. The forecast map (see bottom of the page) suggests that Townsville is more likely to cop it than us.

I think it’s a good idea to put you as fully in the picture as I can. We kind of like the way cyclones get named: it seems to give them each a distinct personality. We’ve had a few cross the coast nearby since we moved to Cairns.

katrinaCyclone Katrina mucked around for a couple of weeks, but never got organised enough to cross the coast as a big blow. Katrina did not cause any deaths in Australia, but a man in Vanuatu lost his life in her rough seas, and hundreds of homes in the Solomon Islands were damaged or destroyed. We were OK in Australia.

800px-New_Orleans_ElevationsCyclone Katrina was much more benign than Hurricane Katrina. The other difference is that although Cairns is not a long way above the high tide mark, at least parts of it are not below the high tide mark as New Orleans is. That’s why so many people died because of Hurricane Katrina: it was not the wind, it was the water. That’s true of most cyclone deaths: flooding and drowning is where most danger lies.

CairnsHospital

Cairns Hospital, 165-171 Esplanade

Luckily we do not own a house on the beach front (there’s also the small matter of not having a lazy couple of million dollars lying around). Storm surges that coincide with cyclones can be a bit of a worry, but at least our place is not in a red zone like the local hospital. Feel free to check our address using storm tide surge address search/evacuation maps here or (just in case the council’s website goes offline) here.

justinThere was heaps of flooding after Cyclone Justin: I remember water lying around for days. Justin is responsible for lost lives In Papua New Guinea and a boat at sea. Closer to home an Innisfail boy was electrocuted by power lines bought down by the cyclone, and a lady was caught in a landslide near Townsville. All that rain and the buffeting wind was bad for crops and trees (some of which fell on to homes).

larryAfter Cyclone Larry we did not have power for five days. It’s amazing how often we still automatically reached for the light switch when entering a room. The reflex of a life time of luxury, I guess. Did you know that about 25% of the world’s population does not have electricity? Info about that here. Going a few days without electricity is a nuisance, but we know it will always come back on. We are better-off than many.

steveCyclone Steve made things a bit soggy for a few days too. The Barron Falls were pumping – if we get another cyclone crossing the coast be sure to checkout the webcam here for a view of the falls in full flood – spectacular! All the tourist operators trot out this cliché at this time of year: “You can’t have rainforest without rain!” It is the wet tropics, after all.

yasiCyclone Yasi looked like it was going to give Cairns a shake-up: so much so they even evacuated the hospitals – the biggest hospital evacuation in Australia’s history. Cairns was lucky that Yasi took a slight turn south before crossing the coast: Tully, Cardwell and Mission Beach really copped a belting though. Yasi was a big, powerful cyclone, but did not directly kill anyone. There was one indirect death: a young man suffocated after bringing a generator inside.

header_logoWe are used to preparing for cyclone season. Every year the Cairns City Council issues information about preparing for cyclones – it’s just part of the annual ritual. we have done it 19 times now.

We have enough food to last a few days. We have containers to store water in, if required. We have batteries for the radio, so we can stay informed about what’s going on if the power goes out. We live high above sea level. We take cyclones seriously. We are prepared.

imagesHowever, we don’t take the hyped-up TV coverage seriously. If the TV shows start shipping their main in-studio people up to Cairns for live crosses please switch of the telly. These shows need to create drama and suspense to make the story compelling, but the truth of it that it’s just weather. Weather that we’re used to. Weather that will be nuisance to many and maybe even dangerous to a few. However, the reality is that it will be more dangerous to drive to the airport to pick you up when you next visit than it is to live in a city with strict building regulations. Houses can still sustain major damage of course, but they don’t blow away anymore. Those images of houses completely blown away by Cyclone Tracy are a thing of the past: Tracy changed building codes right across the Australian tropics.

forecastPlease don’t be worried. Please don’t get seduced by the inevitable media hype. I’ll call/text when I can, and give live updates on Twitter using the @WePublicHealth handle if a cyclone comes close to Cairns this week, otherwise i will use my usual @meta4RN handle. The purpose of Tweeting will to be to provide a non-alarmist account of what’s going-on. The mainstream media are not very good at this, so (to borrow a term from Melissa Sweet ) it is up to citizen journalists to do so.

Well, citizen journalists and the Bureau of Meteorology, that is: www.bom.gov.au

Speak soon.

love, Paul

27th January 2014

Nursing’s Peculiar Privilege

Dear Reader: please don’t read this blog post if you are offended by strong swear words or find talk of suicide a trigger for unsettling/risky thoughts. Kind Regards, Paul.

Who is Going Behind the Curtains?

Working over Christmas and New Year made me especially cognisant of one of the peculiar privileges that we nurses have: we spend a lot of one-to-one time with the person who is medically/surgically recovering after a suicide attempt. My current role is Consultation Liaison Mental Health Nurse – a role that provides mental health assessment, support and education in a general hospital (more info about the role here). When the person is admitted to the general hospital after a non-fatal suicide attempt we are asked to be involved in planning and providing their care.

There are few things more privileged and more important than spending time with the person who is alive after deciding not to be. I do worry that this role is sometimes delegated to the least qualified (and lowest paid) member of frontline clinical care: the Assistant In Nursing (AIN) when there is “nursing special” in place (i.e.: when there are concerns that the person may abscond and/or harm themselves again).

Naturally, being an AIN does not mean you are incapable of sensitive, compassionate, safe care. I just think that “going behind the curtains” to assist in holding and containing the often very strong emotions of the person who has survived suicide is incredibly important. I don’t feel comfortable that someone without mental health qualifications or clinical supervision is tasked with sitting at the bedside for hours at a time. It may not be good for the either the person/patient or the AIN.

Suicide rates per year. Chart courtesy of www.mindframe-media.info

Suicide rates per year. Chart courtesy of http://www.mindframe-media.info

Parallel Processes

In clinical supervision we often explore the parallel processes and how they apply to our clinical work. When working in perinatal mental health I aimed for the therapeutic relationship to be a template for the parent-child relationship: kind and nurturing, responsive and interactive, empowering, educative and enjoyable. The idea being that, at some level, the qualities/values that inform the therapeutic relationship can then have a knock-on effect for the relationship the parent has with their baby. Not many perinatal mental health clinicians have an abrupt, cold, clinical style of interacting with their clients: they tend to be warm, gentle communicators.

When nursing the person who has survived suicide we need to think about parallel processes again. Julie Sharrock (a rock star of consultation liaison nursing) first introduced me to the phrase “holding and containing” as a part of the therapeutic relationship. Traditionally the notion of holding and containing has been attributed as a function of the inpatient setting/building: a place to keep people safe. Julie introduced it to me as a way to keep people safe, by reframing it as a concept for interpersonal therapy. That is, we nurses can assist and model the act of holding and containing difficult emotions.

For the person who has unexpectedly found themselves alive and in hospital after intending to end life, we may need to hold and contain the person physically for a short time, but (to my way of thinking) it is even more important to support the person to hold and contain their thoughts and feelings.

Thoughts are slippery, and prone to be dropped.

Feelings are brittle, and prone to cracking.

Holding and containing such difficult-to-secure, fragile things is fraught: the clinician needs their thoughts and emotions held and contained too. Its a parallel process: as I’ve discussed previously we need to nurture the nurturers.

Suicide rates per age group (2010). Chart courtesy of www.mindframe-media.info

Suicide rates per age group (2010). Chart courtesy of http://www.mindframe-media.info

Profound Moments

Some of the most profound moments of my working life have occurred while supporting the person who has survived suicide.

The incredibly dark humour: “I’m such a fucking loser I can’t even kill myself properly!” said the very nice man. He was not laughing out loud, but smiling at the grim absurdity of his situation. He was alive, but physically worse-off than when he decided to die: now fractured, urinating through a tube, receiving fluids and antibiotics via an IV line. More wounds. More pain. Yet, despite the extra physical insults, he was pleased that he had survived.

The worry: “Is my brain OK? I feel really agitated and confused.” asked the lady who had been in intensive care for a few days. Her brain was OK in the long-term, the distress she was experiencing was mostly short-term stuff:  delirium is really common amongst ICU patients. Hypoxic patients aren’t so lucky: they sometimes never recover the former function of their brain.

“You are the biggest fucking cunt that has ever existed in the whole world!”, said the man after being told he was unable to leave hospital. I was filling-in paperwork that would mean he was an involuntary patient as per the Mental Health Act. I didn’t think I was being particularly nasty. The mental health act is handy because there are times when I need to say, “It seems to me that you don’t have the capacity to keep yourself safe at the moment. So,  I’ll take some of the responsibility of keeping you safe for now. Naturally, we will hand the job back to you when you come good.” Using that framework, filling-in the paperwork for the mental health act is sometimes the most nurturing thing I can do. That’s why i was genuinely surprised, not offended, when he said, “You are the biggest fucking cunt that has ever existed in the whole world!” I asked, “Really? Worse than Hitler?” He laughed and said, “Yeah, Definitely.” I laughed too. Take that Hitler.

The person who had two high perceived lethality, but fortunately non-fatal, attempts to take his life in the fortnight before we met reworded Shakespeare’s famous opening line to Hamlet. Instead of saying, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”, he said, “After what I have experienced in hospital, I now think that it is better to have a difficult life rather than no life at all.” I was so pleased to hear him think that way, and at the same time felt so sad for those people who do not have the opportunity to reconsider: those people that bypass the hospital wards and go straight to the morgue.

These are profound moments in the lives of people.

Nurses, myself included, have the peculiar privilege of being with the people who are experiencing the most important days of their life: the first few days of life that they planned not to have.

Let’s not take that peculiar privilege of nursing lightly.

In Closing

Talking and thinking about suicide can be distressing. Australians can access support via:

 Lifeline – 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

MindHealthConnect www.mindhealthconnect.org.au

phone_hotline-40Outside of Australia and not sure where to get support? Google usually displays a red telephone icon and your country’s suicide support phone number when searching for a suicide-related topic.

As always, comments and feedback on the blog post is welcome. Suicide can be a sensitive topic to comment on, and this blog is the public arena; so, before wording your comment, please check-out this: Mindframe guide

Paul McNamara, 19th January 2014