Goodbye Flo. Hello Hildegard. 

Let’s start with five brief facts:

1️⃣ 12 May = the day Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 = since 1974, the annually celebrated International Nurses Day.
2️⃣ As far as the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) is concerned, there is no such thing as a specialist mental health nurse [source + source]. In fact, as far as NMBA is concerned there are no specialist nurses at all: there are only nurses and midwives.
3️⃣ 5 May = International Day of the Midwife.
4️⃣ Mental Health Nursing is as different from General Nursing as Midwifery is, yet compared to our more glamorised colleagues, Mental Health Nurses are pretty-much invisible in the public imagination.
5️⃣ If Mental Health Nurses are thought of all in popular culture it’s nearly always through the lens of a fictional character from a 1962 novel, a 1975 movie, and a 2020 TV series, Nurse Mildred Ratched is to mental health nursing as Dr Hannibal Lector is to psychiatrists. Fortunately, life does not always imitate art, but neither of these characters are especially helpful for the image of professions that are often overlooked or maligned.

Florence, 12th May (thanks, but I’m moving on – it’s not you, it’s me)

As a Specialist Mental Health Nurse, I think it’s time to consciously decouple from the forced/faux annual relationship I have with Florence Nightingale every 12 May. The skillset and professional heritage of mental health/psychiatric nurses is not represented by dear old Flo. As Philippa Martyr (1999, p. 1) noted, “Unlike the romantic Nightingales of general nursing history, mental health nurses’ predecessors were gaolers.” I’m not suggesting for a moment that mental health/psychiatric nurses hitch our wagon to the culture of custodians, but I do suggest that we intentionally align ourselves to someone more attuned to our speciality than Florence Nightingale.

Dymphna, 15th May (sorry, but you’re too fictional & Catholic)

Previously, [here + here], and a bit tongue-in-cheek, I’ve floated the idea of mental health/psychiatric nurses celebrating our speciality every year to coincide with the Feast of Saint Dymphna. 
💡 Upside: Dymphna’s story is a ripping yarn that has a mental health theme running through it, and it falls on 15 May (ie: nice and close to International Nurses Day and International Day of the Midwife). 
💡 Downside: Dymphna is aligned to one religion in a world of over four thousand religions, plus a good many atheists and agnostics. Dymphna’s fictional story won’t resonate with the majority of the world’s mental health/psychiatric nurses. 

A Better Idea

Instead, how about doing as our general nurse colleagues have done, and borrow the birthday of a pioneering nurse theorist to celebrate each year?

Hildegard, 1st September (there goes my hero)

Why don’t we celebrate 1 September – the birthday of Hildegard Peplau (1909-1999) – as International Mental Health/Psychiatric Nurse Day?
💡 Upside: Hildegard is pretty-much universally acknowledged as the founding theorist for psychiatric/mental health nurses. 
💡 Downsides: 
1️⃣ 1 September will not be able to leverage the momentum created in May each year by our general nurse and midwife colleagues.
2️⃣ Since 2019 UK Mental Health Nurses have celebrated 21 February each year as Mental Health Nurses Day. Would the British mental health nurses be happy to change the date to align with the world, or would they rather the world aligns with their randomly chosen date?
3️⃣ 19 March is ‘Certified Nurses Day’, which described as ‘a worldwide day of recognition that celebrates nursing specialty, subspecialty and advanced practice certification’ [source]. As far as I can tell it’s not acknowledged outside of the USA and Canada, but there is evidence that together with other specialist nurses (eg: Oncology, Critical Care), Specialist Psychiatric Nurses also celebrate that day [example]. Would the North American psychiatric nurses be happy to change the date to align with the world, or would they rather the world aligns with their existing catch-all-nursing-speciality-celebration date?
4️⃣ For all I know, other countries and cultures may already be celebrating their psychiatric/mental health nurses annually (apologies for my ignorance – this isn’t a thorough research project, and nothing else leaped out at me via a quick Google search). If so, would they be happy to change that date to align with the world, or would they rather the world aligns with their existing date?
5️⃣ I’m just a random nurse in a small regional city fart-arsing around on a blog page on a showery Sunday. It’s not for me to say what the world’s mental health/psychiatric nurses should do. For that to happen there would have to be consensus amongst leading agencies such as 
💡 Horatio: European Psychiatric Nurses
💡 Te Ao Māramatanga New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses
💡 Irish Institute of Mental Health Nursing
💡 American Psychiatric Nurses Association
💡 Mental Health Nurse Academics UK
💡 Singapore Nurses Association – Psychiatric Nurses Chapter
💡 International Association for Psychiatric Nurses
💡 Canadian Federation of Mental Health Nurses
💡 Australian College of Mental Health Nurses
and, I guess, it would be sensible to get the International Council of Nurses on board too. 

In my experience, collectively mental health nurses can be a pretty bolshie lot. Is it possible that the leaders of the lead agencies above would
[a] see the need for change?, and 
[b] agree on what that change should look like? 

I don’t know, but I’ll tag as many of the relevant organisations as I can find on social media, and maybe spark a bit of discussion on and around this year’s International Nurses Day. #agentprovocateur

Flo was pretty out-there for her time/culture. Perhaps she would have enjoyed her legacy being hijacked for a debate like this.

Hildegard was all about the relationship: you’d imagine she would appreciate her legacy being discussed in this conversation too. I hope so. I reckon she’s a good fit for the vacant mental health nurse hero gig.


Most cited references are included as in-text links. There was just one formal reference:

Martyr, P.J. [Philippa], (1999), Setting the Standard: a history of the Australian and New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses, Inc, ANZCMHN, Inc, Greenacres, SA.
PDF of November 2007 reprint via Australian College of Mental Health Nurses, online:

End Notes

Thanks for reading this far. 

What are your thoughts? Do you think the work, culture and skillset of Specialist Mental Health Nurses is so different from their General Nurse colleagues that they deserve a specific annual day of acknowledgment and celebration? 

Reflecting my white, English-speaking background, I am certain to have missed many of the lead psychiatric/mental health nursing organisations around the world – especially those who aren’t readily googleable in English. Apologies in advance for my ignorance. Please help me correct omissions via the comments section below, and I’ll add them to the list above as soon as I get a chance.

Hopefully it’s obvious that I’m an individual aiming to be a provocateur for discussion, am not representing any organisation(s), and am not aiming to become a dictator in control of the world’s mental health/psychiatric nurses. However, if there’s fabulous wealth and power to be had with the latter I would certainly give the job consideration. 🙂

Paul McNamara, 1 May 2022

Short URL 

2 thoughts on “Goodbye Flo. Hello Hildegard. 

  1. Jean Mehrtens

    I did a presentation once called “Stranger in a Strange Land” about my personal experience of becoming a consultation liaison nurse in acute health. I “trained” in a large psychiatric hospital and always considered myself a psychiatric nurse. It was not well received by the younger audience who were tertiary educated. There are cultural differences, shared understandings, similar experiences that build different world views that are hard to articulate. I am all for a day for us; a different day to the non-psychiatric nurses.

    Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s