Tag Archives: nursing

Defending Mental Health in Nursing Education

NHS

The Guardian (UK ed), 29 Sep 2014

There was an article in The Guardian (UK edition) recently where a nurse described how ill-equipped they felt to support patients experiencing mental health difficulties. The article included the startling information that, “My nursing course, which I think was excellent, contained no more than three days structured education on caring for patients with mental health problems.”

Umm. That wasn’t an excellent nursing course. That’s a crap nursing course.

Look, us Aussies like to tease the Brits about their weather and cricket team every chance we get, but I’m not accustomed to criticising their nursing courses. The truth is, I do not know enough about nursing courses in the UK to hold any strong opinions about how good or bad they are.

That said, I wonder what the general public would think of hospitals being staffed by nurses who had undertaken, as reported, a three year nursing course that includes only three days of teaching in mental health. I am glad that doesn’t happen in Australia.

Dumbing Down is Dumb

Since July 2000 most of my work has been about supporting mental health care in the general health settings as Consultation Liaison CNC (more about that here) and as Perinatal Mental Health CNC (more about that here). These roles have direct clinical input, but also have a lot to do with supporting general nurses and midwives to feel more confident and become more skilled at providing direct clinical care to people experiencing mental health difficulties. It’s inevitable that they’ll need these skills – a significant proportion of people who access general hospitals and/or maternity services also experience symptoms of depression, anxiety etc. Dumbing-down mental health education for general nurses and midwives is dumb.

elistIn August 2012 I mounted my high horse to defend the depth and quality of nursing education training sprouting the opinion that Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is not suitable training for RNs. My rant went along the lines of it’s great training for many community and professional groups, but it’s inadequate for those working in health role. Undergraduate nursing programs have more than the 12 contact hours that MHFA offers, and we should re-awaken/build-on that education. Nurses in particular need to know a bit about:

  • confpressymptom detection
  • meanings/implications of diagnosis groups
  • medication effects and side-effects
  • the biopsychosocial model of mental health
  • social determinants of health
  • risk assessment/management
  • emotional intelligence and therapeutic use of self

To give MHFA their due, they have never claimed their training to be an alternative to formal nursing education (others have). MHFA does a good job at informing first responders, but does not address mental health in a manner suitable for a frontline clinician. There is a community expectation that nurses and midwives will have a depth of understanding of mental health beyond that of the general community, beyond basic fist aid. This conversation started off as a discussion in the workplace, became a topic of discussion on the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses e-lists, then became expanded into a conference presentation and, more recently, was articulated as this journal article:

Happell, B., Wilson, R> & McNamara, P. (2014) Undergraduate mental health nursing education in Australia: More than Mental Health First Aid. Collegian (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2014.07.003

Happell, B., Wilson, R. and McNamara, P. (2014) Undergraduate mental health nursing education in Australia: More than Mental Health First Aid. Collegian (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2014.07.003

Anyway, I guess there are two points to this blog post:

One: Quality Control
Let’s make sure that we continue to defend the quality and depth of undergraduate nursing and midwifery training in Australia. We must never let it slip like the UK example of just three days training in three years. That is woefully inadequate.

Two: Speak Up 
If you’re a nurse or midwife with strong opinions about a subject, it doesn’t hurt to discuss these opinions online. As per this example, a discussion held online morphed into a conference presentation and a journal article. For me, anyway, the difference between it being a rant and a paper was the interest and input from a couple of Nursing Academics: Brenda Happell (@IHSSRDir on Twitter) and Rhonda Wilson (@RhondaWilsonMHN on Twitter).

References

Happell, B., Wilson, R. L. & McNamara, P. (2013). Beyond bandaids: Defending the depth and detail of mental health in nursing education. Paper presented at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses 39th International Mental Health Nursing Conference Perth, Western Australia, Australia. Abstract in International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, Vol 22, Issue Supplement S1, pp 11-12 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/inm.2013.22.issue-s1/issuetoc

Happell, B., Wilson, R. L. & McNamara, P. (2014) Undergraduate mental health nursing education in Australia: More than Mental Health First Aid. Collegian (In Press) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2014.07.003

End

Thanks for reading this far. As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 21st October 2014

Short URL: meta4RN.com/defend

Free Open Access Mental Health Education for General Nurses and Midwives #FOANed

If you’re a nurse or midwife, and own an internet-enabled device you have unprecedented access to information.

Information + motivation = education.

Borrowing from the very successful #FOAMed initiative, recently there has been a flurry of activity regarding Free Open Access Nursing Education (aka #FOANed).  That is:

Free
Open
Access
Nurse
education

The #FOANed hashtag makes it’s easy to share info and resources via social media. If you’re cruising Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or even Instagram, have a look for the #FOANed hashtag.

Still not sure what the #FOANed hashtag is all about? Perhaps it’s just easier to see for yourself via this Storify (click here).

Mental Health #FOANed

Anyway, in the spirit of #FOANed, here are four suggestions for free open access nursing education re mental health for general nurses and midwives (click on each picture for more info):

1. Physical and Mental Health Care via Australian College of Mental Health Nurses:

2. Mental Health Liaison in General Hospitals via New South Wales Health:

inkysmudge.com.au/eSimulation/mhl.html

inkysmudge.com.au/eSimulation/mhl.html

3. Perinatal Mental Health Training for Midwives via Monash University:

perinatal.med.monash.edu.au

perinatal.med.monash.edu.au

4. MIND Essentials via Queensland Health:

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of the mental health #FOANed available online, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started if you’re looking for some CPD/info.

Please feel free to add your suggestions for other free open access nursing education re mental health in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 20th October 2014

Short URL: meta4RN.com/FOANed

These words have been in my head and they needed to come out (a blog post about suicide)

Trigger Alert – this blog contains info re suicide which may be unsettling for some people.

Guest Post: Stevie Jacobs has contributed this guest post to meta4RN.com

StevieJacobsStevie Jacobs is the pen name of a newly-minted Enrolled Nurse. The person behind Stevie is smart, experienced in life and has some awesome insight into the world of the student and new graduate nurse.

You can follow Stevie Jacobs on Twitter: @SJWritesHere

Stevie has contributed to other nurse blogs, including the excellent site Injectable Orange, by Jesse Spurr.

These words have been in my head and they needed to come out
(a blog post about suicide)

I am ‘Pro choice’.

I am a patient advocate.

I am a person advocate.

I support euthanasia.

I am pretty much of the opinion that if you have all the facts, figures and feelings figured out then you can go ahead and do pretty-much whatever you like. Even if it’s ‘bad’ for you. I can provide you with action plans and phone numbers and personal support, however ultimately, the choice my friend, is yours.

So when someone wants to kill themselves/suicide/take their own life (however you want to put it) what does my head feel about that? I’m not talking about obligations as a Health Care Professional, I’m talking about obligations as a human being. I can provide you with an ear to bend, a shoulder to lean on, I can find you professional help if you want, I can tell you that I don’t think you’re in a safe space and I want to get more support. For both of us. I can do all that. What I am stuck with is that if euthanasia is assisted suicide and I’m OK with that (OK meaning I won’t physically stop you nor judge you), does that mean I am ‘OK ‘ with someone’s suicide? Both have the same ending:, the removal of pain through the death of a person. I don’t know how my heart or my head feel about that.

Robin Williams was 63. That’s a long time to be living in pain. Yes, there are medications and therapies and support groups, but what if that starts to feel just all too much? That living is just all too much, a bit like ‘diabetic burnout’, where the person with diabetes basically gets fed up with ‘managing’ their diabetes and becomes unwell. That can happen with all chronic diseases. That can happen with mental health issues. Yes, some people have a depressive episode, it’s self-limiting and then they never have another one. Wonderful. For others, it just keeps on coming back, more painful than before.

To someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, suicide I can seem to be a rational method of pain relief. It’s the ultimate pain reliever for the person experiencing the thoughts.

For those left behind it can be devastating.

I can’t make up my mind. Do I have the ‘right’ to stop someone from suicide? I’m on the fence. The boundaries get blurred. I’ve experienced anxiety & depression, I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts & been ‘suicidally depressed’, I’ve had a family member suicide and I’ve known someone I followed on Twitter suicide. Which is a really fucking weird experience, quite frankly. Grief for someone who you ‘know’, but don’t ‘know’. 101 ‘What ifs?’. I could ‘see’ that something wasn’t right, but aside from checking in and offering an ear what else could I do? I’m at peace with those choices now, no longer haunted by ‘what ifs’. I’m sure that is not the same for their family and friends. I realised that what has stayed in my head is a photo of themselves they posted shortly before it happened. It’s their eyes. Their eyes haunt me. I can see something in their eyes I’ve seen time and time again. In my face. In the faces of others. I know those eyes so well. However good your mask is it’s in the eyes.

So, what to do? Who am I to tell anyone what to do? There isn’t really a clear answer. I think it’s really important to keep checking in on people: RU OK? I have RUOKed a few people and I will keep doing it. If it’s a ‘No’, and they express some ideas that worry you, it’s OK to ask “Do you have a plan?” If it’s a ‘Yes’, what then? Especially if you just don’t believe them. That’s trickier ground to navigate. I’m no expert on this. There are links at the end of this from people who are.

RU OK? It’s just a simple question. A simple, lifesaving question. I was on another planet from OK, and someone who barely knew me asked me that question.

It was like a thunderbolt.

It made me stop and think and choose to get help to make living less painful. Choosing to get help is hard. Getting help can be harder. What’s even harder is acknowledging that choosing to live is a conscious effort. It’s an effort. Accepting that medications and therapy and exercise and diet changes and avoiding triggers are now part of your life is an effort.

In time I hope that life will once again become effortless, but it might not.

Finally, after years of effort, I now think I am OK with that.

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Post Script 1:

I wrote the above post a little while back. Normally when I have said all I have to say on a subject it doesn’t pop back in to my head. This post did. If I am honest, I have only scratched the surface. I have more to say. The way I write usually is like a good vomit on a night out: it all comes out in one go and it’s done and dusted and you’re up and dancing again. The other way I write is a bit more like a gastro bug: on and off with a bit of dry retching when you just can’t get it out. Then you’re done and you feel better.

Paul told me the ‘meta’ point of meta4RN is ‘talk about what you’re talking about’. So I guess that’s what I’m doing here. Rereading the above, reflecting on it and trying to work out quite what it is that I still feel I want to say.

We need to talk about mental health. We need to talk about suicide. We need to do it in a safe, appropriate and open way, but we do need to talk about it. Talking about it is hard. Talking about it can be terrifying for anyone. Talking about it when you’re a health professional is really damn hard. There are so many ‘what ifs’. What if they ‘lock me up’? What if they don’t? What if they think I’m not fit to practice? What if I lose my job? What if my colleagues find out? What if I have to be treated in the same hospital that I work in? What if…

I want to talk about how it feels to have suicidal thoughts. I want to talk about how it feels to be suicidally depressed. I’m not sure how to do that. I know that there are media guidelines for discussing suicide. As someone who is trying to describe a ‘lived experience’, I decided the best way for me to write was to let it all come out uncensored, and then give it to Paul to edit it using some of those guidelines and make it ‘safe’. I am in a safe enough space now to be brutally honest about how those suicidal thoughts feel, and far away enough from those thoughts to be able to talk about them without feeling ‘triggered’.

I can only speak for myself. For me there is a distinction between having suicidal thoughts and being ‘suicidal’ or ‘suicidally depressed’, as I have referred to it in the past. The thing about ‘suicidal thoughts’ is that the longer you have them the more rational they seem. For me suicidal thoughts are more of a hypothetical notion; it’s not something I am going to carry out. It’s an icy calm IF. IF things don’t get better, IF that was to happen, IF there isn’t another way out, IF the pain becomes unbearable, IF.

I know exactly how I would kill myself. I know exactly how I would spend the jackpot from a lottery win. I know exactly what I would get done if I had free access to plastic surgery. It’s all hypothetical.

It’s hypothetical. Until it’s not. Until I am suicidally depressed. Until I am in pain. Until the self-loathing I carry around with me every day takes over. Until I truly believe that the people in my life would be better off without me. Until I can’t see any way out aside from that way. And that place is not icy calm. It’s a messy, clinging on to something, anything to get through hour after hour, painful, emotional swamp. I feel emotionally swamped. I can’t think in a straight line. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. The anxiety eats at my stomach. The panic attacks feel like I am dying of a heart attack. The after effects of which last for days. And nothing, nothing stops the pain. That’s how suicidal feels like for me. I know, however, that it is not what it looks like to other people. People see what they want to see. Even people who are trained to see more. I am brilliant at hiding it. I know how to put on my mask and polish up my armour. It is exhausting.

There are cracks in my armour, sometimes the mask slips. My fellow walking wounded can see though them, but for the most part the people I see every day wouldn’t know. I can make people feel so good about themselves. I can make people cry with laughter. Then, the second I am alone, the pain floods over me and I can barely breathe. I keep coming back to pain. It’s about pain. Not control, nor attention seeking, nor escape; in that moment it is about wanting that pain in my heart to stop. To. Stop.

It’s a horrendous place to live to be honest. It’s a half life. I had to choose to live better. To live for me. To get help – medications, counselling, CBT, exercise, diet. It’s a conscious choice. And what helped me make that choice was being asked ‘RU OK?’

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Post Script 2:

So, turns out it’s not a verbal gastro bug. It’s verbal C.Diff. The words just keep coming out.

I think I need to make it clear that I am talking about a period of over 10 years. I need to make it clear that I am talking about the past. I might write ‘I know’, but I suppose really it is ‘I knew’. Deciding to share this is a decision that has been easy, but it is a decision that I have made because these words have been in my head and they needed to come out. There are more things I could say, about specific attempts, specific feelings. However, I don’t want to share them. I think that’s OK.

I need to make it clear that I support ‘RUOK’ & WHO suicide prevention strategies. I need to make it clear that if you judge me negatively based on what I have written or if it changes your opinion of me, then that’s your thing, not mine. I’m not asking for agreement or understanding, but I do ask for kindness.

I was asked recently what the best thing in my life is right now. Aside from Nursing, the answer is the people in it. I know that my people love me, and accept ‘me’, and that’s enough.

Black Dog Institute Healthy Living Study is a program to help those experiencing suicidal thoughts manage them: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/research/participateinourresearch/index.cfm

Black Dog Institute Healthy Living Study is a program to help those experiencing suicidal thoughts manage them: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/research/participateinourresearch/index.cfm

End.

Short URL:  meta4RN.com/guest02

Many thanks to Stevie Jacobs for sharing this gutsy piece of writing. Your sensitive, constructive feedback is welcomed in the comments section below.

It’s also important to acknowledge that talking and thinking about suicide can be distressing. People in Australia 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.

This guest blog post has a companion piece, which I have imaginatively called “A Blog About A Blog About Suicide” – the link is here: meta4RN.com/mindframe

Paul McNamara, 23rd September 2014

How to do Dodgy Research: A Case Study

Please let me present an excellent example of dodgy research, which in this instance is an online survey being touted as “public consultation”. I’m being a bit chicken by intentionally avoiding using an example from nursing/health, and using an example from an industry that I am not involved in*.  The example I have come across is by the Far North Queensland Ports Corporation Limited, trading as Ports North (a Queensland government-owned corporation); more info about Ports North here: www.portsnorth.com.au.

In Cairns consideration is being given to dredging the shipping channel to allow larger ships to access the port. However, because Cairns is synonymous with the Great Barrier Reef there are concerns about the impact of dredging on the living coral. This has been reported in the local newspaper (The Cairns Post), on the radio (ABC Far North Queensland) and via local university researchers (Coral CoE @ James Cook University). Ports North is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and are seeking community feedback as part of the EIS process. All of that sounds good, until we look at the questions.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at the online survey together (eight screenshots follow):

1. Survey Introduction

1This is pretty good: it gives an explanation of the rationale for the survey, assures confidentiality, and is friendly and inviting: “Your feedback is important to us…” It is interesting to note the choice of words “expand the shipping channel” rather than “dredging the shipping channel”. Nevertheless, the survey is inviting community feedback to inform the environment impact statement, so it would be reasonable to expect there to be questions regarding this.

2. Awareness Question2

The options in the drop-down menu are “Yes” and “No”. A simple question that again uses the word “expand” rather than “dredge”. For your consideration: what influence does choice of words/language make in surveys?

3. Support Question

3

The options in the drop-down menu are “Yes”, “No” and “Don’t Know”. Again, an interesting choice of words: I wonder if there would be a difference in responses if the question was changed from “Do you support this proposed community project?” to “Do you support dredging the shipping channel?”

4. The Push-Poll Question

4

Despite the previous question allowing for alternative responses, this question prompts the participant towards an affirmative response. An excellent example of push-polling.

5. The Abstract Question

5

We’re more than half way through the survey inviting community feedback to inform the environment impact statement. Still no mention of the environment in the survey, but at least this question does provide an opportunity for the participant to make mention of that, I guess. However, the question is a bit abstract – a random trawl for information that seems unlikely to yield much meaningful data to inform the environment impact statement.

6. Mailing List Question Number One

6

This question has nothing to do with the environment impact statement, but offers a “Yes” or “No” choice to joining the Ports North mailing list.

7. Mailing List Question Number Two

7

It does not matter what the response to the previous question is, the survey asks for contact details anyway.

8. The Demographic Question (Maybe)

8

I guess this question aims to capture whether the research participants are part of the Cairns community or not. It is the final in the survey.

Summary

Ports North have created an online survey that claims to seek community feedback as part of the process of preparing an environmental impact statement. However, none of the questions address environmental issues.

This is an excellent example of how to do dodgy research.

So What?

How does this relate to the meta4RN blog related to nursing/health? Well, there is an argument to be made that links health to the environment and economy, but that’s not the prompt for me. My reason for using this case study is twofold: [1] it relates to something happening in my backyard, and [2] because this survey reminded me of some of the surveys that I have been exposed to in my nursing career. There have quite a few examples of “research”, “evaluation” or “satisfaction” surveys that predetermine the answers by limiting/skewing the questions.

In a related tangent, there are plenty of examples of quackery that are passed-off as health research/interventions that can confuse us and our patients. It is fitting for nurses, midwives and other health professionals to be vigilant to signs of dodgy research, as described in the sci-ence.org comic “The Red Flags of Quackery v2.0″:

End

As always, comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 20th July 2014

P.S.

*Explanation re choosing an example to mock that is not directly related to health/nursing: I have a mortgage and don’t feel very secure. Call me “chicken”, but that’s they way it is at the moment. Cluck! Cluck!

 

 

 

 

Lalochezia

Many nurses and midwives are so adept at swearing that they can make truckies blush. Sailors and sportsmen gather at their feet to learn the fine art of uttering profanities.

There is, however, a small rightious subset of health professionals who are absolutely determined to take offence every time a patent gets a bit sweary.  These people seem to have no tolerance for the use of vulgar, foul language to express and relieve stress or pain. There is emotional release to be had when uttering indecent or filthy words.

The phenomenon of emotional release through swearing even has a name: “lalochezia” – a word formed from the Greek lalia (speech) and chezo (to relieve oneself). Sources 1 + 2

lalochezia

 

Words only have the power that we ascribe to them. As a judge sitting on cases regarding obscene language charges said, the use of swear words in Australia is very common in music, poetry, drama and literature, by ordinary people in the street, and by those in the corridors of power. The notion that they cause offence is an individual’s decision to react, not because of the rarity or harshness of the words themselves. Source 3.

Anyway, if we are fair dinkum about being patient-focused then swearing can be very useful.

Swear words are great adjectives – think of them as something akin to the pain scale. Instead of using the ” 0 = no pain and 10 = worst pain imaginable” routine, some of our patients will use their own qualitative and quantitative pain scale. It might include descriptors like “no worries”, “a bit of an ache”, “painful”, “bloody painful”, “really bloody painful”, “bastard of an ache”, “as painful as fuck”, etc.

Maybe its those dopey “zero tolerance” signs (and the dopey attitudes they engender) that make some clinicians react to swear words as if they are weapons. As I have argued previously (see meta4RN.com/zero), we should have zero tolerance for zero tolerance and not spend so much time and effort trying to shut-down people from expressing their distress.

Swearing not only communicates emotions but, as per the definition of “lalochezia”, acts as a pressure valve for those emotions. In clinical practice we should not be too quick to try turn off that pressure valve – it may prevent an explosion.

Suggested Further Reading

Stone, T. E. and Hazelton, M. (2008), An overview of swearing and its impact on mental health nursing practice. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 17: 208–214. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0349.2008.00532.x
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1447-0349.2008.00532.x/abstract

Print (PDF version): LalocheziaPrint

End

As always, comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 12th July 2014

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

 

 

 

Will GP copayment increase violence in hospitals?

Guest Post: Briana Scully has contributed this (first-ever) guest post to meta4RN.com

BrianaScullyBrianna Scully is a first year journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney. As well as writing stories for university, Brianna is also a Beauty Editorial Intern at Her Fashion Box. Although she hasn’t been studying journalism for long, Brianna is sure this is the right career path for her and wishes to work in print or television production in the future. @brianna_scully

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Will GP copayment increase violence in hospitals?

Although fire extinguishers are typically thought of as potentially life-saving devices, they proved the opposite to Paul McNamara when one was “being held at shoulder height by a tall, fit, powerful young man on a violent rampage in a medical ward.” This is the chilling account of mental health nurse Paul McNamara in his blog titled Emotional Aftershocks. Paul, who works in the medical and surgical wards of a large regional hospital, is one example of increasing violence against nurses in Australia.

A 2013 survey by Nursing Careers Allied Health revealed 39 per cent of nurses had experienced violence in the past five years. With massive cuts to health in this year’s Federal Budget, medical professionals and experts predict that violence against nurses in hospitals will rise.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Branch of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation said violence has increased due to “an increase in methamphetamine abuse by the public, staffing shortages in hospitals and longer waiting periods in emergency departments.” Michael Roche, senior health lecturer and coordinator of the Glueing it Together: Nurses, their work environment and patient safety study in NSW, believes adequate staffing is key in preventing violence, and that budget cuts to health will have a detrimental outcome. “We have found that a higher proportion of registered nurses was associated with lower rates of violence, so a corresponding reduction would likely increase rates. . .if fewer staff were available then it is easy to see how patients and families could become frustrated, increasing the potential for violence. 

 Paul McNamara believes violence against nurses was not as much of an issue for previous generations. “Intoxication with alcohol and amphetamines is certainly part of the problem, but there’s more to it I think; something to do with a change in culture perhaps.”

Tara Nipe, a nurse at a tertiary metropolitan hospital, believes the proposed $7 co-payment for visits to the GP will prevent early detection of illnesses and lead to increasing numbers of patients needing emergency care. “If it’s a choice between a $7 GP fee or bread, milk, cereal and spreads for a week, some people will decide not to go in about that red, sore patch on their leg, pain in urination, or really nasty cold . . . When they present to emergency departments they’ll be sicker, needing admission and expensive intervention, putting more pressure on an already stretched system, and increasing the kinds of factors that contribute to violence.”

According to an ABC article, Health Minister Peter Dutton claimed co-payments would be beneficial to those who can’t afford healthcare in the future. However, the NSW Shadow Minister for Health Andrew McDonald believes the co-payment is a “dreadful policy” that will be “extremely damaging to the Australian health system.” Dr. McDonald believes the most effective way to prevent violence is to abandon the co-payment. “It [violence] certainly is a problem that is increasing and one that will certainly get worse if our emergency departments go into meltdown, as is highly likely with co-payments.”

Despite the fact he was not physically harmed, Paul McNamara suffered emotionally after the event, writing: “[I] get teary every now and then when I think of what could have happened: those skull-cracking thoughts are the worst bit.” Although there are calls for a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ where no act of violence is tolerated by medical staff, Paul believes a caring approach is more effective. “Not every nurse gets exposed to violence or abuse, but you’ll see it up-close-and-personal through your patient’s eyes sometimes. Nurses do emotional labour: be prepared for the emotional aftershocks that come with the job.”

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End

Many thanks to Briana Scully for contributing this article, initially written as an assignment for her journalism course, to be the inaugural guest post on meta4RN.com. In keeping with an university assignment Briana listed her sources, but they have not been included on the online version. To contact Briana directly go via Twitter: @brianna_scully

As always, please feel free to leave comments below. I would be pleased to hear from others interested in contributing a guest post to meta4RN.com (especially, but not limited to, students who have an assignment that it is likely to be of interest to nurses and midwives).

Paul McNamara, 25th June 2014

 

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.

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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