Tag Archives: Saint Dymphna

What can Mental Health Nurses learn from the Amazing Story of a Catholic Patron Saint? (my #ACMHN2016 conference poster)

Welcome to the online companion to my poster presentation at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses 42nd International Mental Health Nursing Conference, 25 – 27 October 2016, Adelaide Convention Centre.

If you have 6 minutes to spare, please watch the YouTube version:

“What can mental health nurses learn from the amazing story of a catholic patron saint?” was initially submitted as an #ACMHN2016 oral presentation, but accepted as a conference poster. So, instead of updating and reworking the YouTube presentation (as I had planned), I started again. I’m not sure that the poster meets the brief (well, abstract) as well as an oral presentation would have, but anyway…


Mental health nursing has a long tradition of story-telling as a tool for developing relationships, undertaking mental state assessment and informing clinical practice. This presentation aims to add to mental health nursing’s discourse about “how we do business”, and add another layer of cultural diversity to our narrative and identity. A review of the literature regarding a catholic patron saint called Dymphna has been undertaken. This will be summarised and presented in a manner in keeping with philosopher Alain de Botton’s proposal that religious teachings should not be trusted to the religious alone – they can be re-purposed and re-mixed to inform atheists too. The historical and mystical story of a 7th century European teenage martyr and saint will be aligned to 21st century Australian language and values. Dymphna’s tale takes unexpected twists and turns which will raise questions about Australia’s appetite for innovative models of mental health care, and whether more could be done to promote mental health nursing as a profession and an identity. This presentation will appeal to those interested in consumer-focused mental health care, innovative alternatives to mainstream care, celebrating mental health nursing, and amazing stories.



Catholic Online (n.d.) St. Dymphna. Retrieved from www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=222

Catholic Saints Info (2016, 27 July) Saint Dymphna. Retrieved from catholicsaints.info/saint-dymphna

de Botton, A. (2011, July) Alain de Botton: Atheism 2.0 [Video file] Retrieved from www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0

Franciscan Mission Associates. (n.d.) The Story of St. Dymphna. Retrieved from franciscanmissionassoc.org/prayer-requests/devotional-saints/st-dymphna/story/ 

Goldstein, J.L. & Godemont, M.M.L. (2003) The Legend and Lessons of Geel, Belgium: A 1500-Year-Old Legend, a 21st-Century Model. Community Mental Health Journal. 39: 441. doi: 10.1023/A:1025813003347

Ireland’s Eye (n.d.) Saint Dymphna. Retrieved from www.irelandseye.com/irish/people/saints/dympna.shtm

Jay, M. (2014, 9 January) The Geel question. Retrieved from aeon.co/essays/geel-where-the-mentally-ill-are-welcomed-home

Kirsch, J.P. (1909). St. Dymphna. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved from New Advent: www.newadvent.org/cathen/05221b.htm

McNamara, P. (2013, 14 May) Dymphna: The Amazing Story of a Catholic Patron Saint. Retrieved from meta4RN.com/dymphna

McNamara, P. (2013, 20 May) Should May 15th be International Mental Health Nurse Day? Retrieved from meta4RN.com/may15

Novena (n.d.) Feast of St. Dympna. Retrieved from novena.com/2013/05/15/feast-of-st-dymphna/

Openbaar Psychiatrisch Zorgcentrum (OPZ) – Geel website www.opzgeel.be/en/home/htm/intro.asp

Rabenstein, K.I. (1998) Saint of the day. Retrieved from www.saintpatrickdc.org/ss/0515.shtml

Wikipedia (2016, 21 September) Dymphna. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymphna

Image References

In an effort to engage conference delegates in the story of Dymphna, the poster has been made in a colourful quasi-comic style. At time of writing this (a fortnight before the conference starts),  I feel a bit anxious that someone will misinterpret the effort to visually engage people as trivialising the subject. This is a bit of a worry, because Dymphna’s story includes nasty stuff, not the least of which includes threatened incest, family violence and two people being beheaded. Even Donald Trump would know that these are not topics to be trivialised.

Although I don’t treat Dymphna’s story with the same reverence as The Pope, I do hold the stories I learnt as a catholic schoolboy with a nostalgic affection. My telling of Dymphna’s story is through the prism of a happily-lapsed-catholic, and with the words of Kirsch [see reference list above] ringing in my ears: “This narrative is without any historical foundation, being merely a variation of the story of the king who wanted to marry his own daughter, a motif which appears frequently in popular legends.” Dymphna’s amazing story is a centuries-old remix of a made-up myth. It’s not the news.

Le martyre de sainte Dymphne et de saint Gerbert (Martyrdom of St Dymphna and St Gerebernus), Seghers Gérard (1591-1651) http://www.photo.rmn.fr/archive/09-524783-2C6NU09M4JRG.html

Le martyre de sainte Dymphne et de saint Gerbert (Martyrdom of St Dymphna and St Gerebernus), Seghers Gérard (1591-1651) http://www.photo.rmn.fr/archive/09-524783-2C6NU09M4JRG.html

Openbaar Psychiatrisch Zorgcentrum (OPZ) – Geel http://www.opzgeel.be/en/home/htm/intro.asp

Openbaar Psychiatrisch Zorgcentrum (OPZ) – Geel http://www.opzgeel.be/en/home/htm/intro.asp

The Technical Stuff

The poster was made using Apple Pages running on a 2011 iMac.

The poster was made for non-commercial reasons, and full attribution has been given to the authors/works used to inform/illustrate the poster. I expect the same in return, so “What can mental health nurses learn from the amazing story of a catholic patron saint?” by Paul McNamara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

There’s a description of how the video was made here: meta4RN.com/Dymphna 


You can either cite this web page as:

McNamara, P.  (2016, 11 October) What can mental health nurses learn from the amazing story of a catholic patron saint? Retrieved from http://meta4RN.com/amazing

or, if you’re pulling info direct from the abstract, use the more academic-sounding citation that’s in the IJMHN (the ACMHN journal):

McNamara, P. (2016) What can mental health nurses learn from the amazing story of a catholic patron saint? (poster, ACMHN’s 42nd International Mental Health Nursing Conference Nurses striving to tackle disparity in health care 25 – 27 October 2016, Adelaide Convention Centre). International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, Vol 25, Issue S1, Pg 34. doi: 10.1111/inm.12771


I’ll leave a copy of the PDF here (amazingstoryposter2) just in case I need it one day. Things are much easier to find/share when they’re online.

Previous visitors to my website will know that I’ve covered the Dymphna story previously back in 2013. It’s not self-plagiarising if it’s referenced, is it? It’s more like a funky new remix.🙂

If you’re at the conference, please say howdy if you see me skulking about, and/or share this web page or your pics of the poster using the #ACMHN2016 hashtag.

As always, your comments are welcome below.

Paul McNamara, 11th October 2016.


Should May 15th be International Mental Health Nurse Day?


An afterthought to a previous blog post Dymphna: The Amazing Story of a Catholic Patron Saint.

Midwives are celebrated every 5th May with the International Day of the Midwife.

Nurses are acknowledged every May 12th (Florence Nightingale’s birthday) with International Nurses Day.

Which leaves me wondering whether Mental Health Nurses should follow suit and nominate a day to acknowledge, celebrate and raise the profile of our speciality – an International Mental Health Nurse Day.

15th May is Saint Dymphna’s Feast Day – to Catholics she is the patron saint of mental health nurses (and our clients, colleagues and workplaces). Also, in Geel, Belgium (where Dymphna died) there is both a cathedral dedicated to Dymphna and (this is thought to be related) an incredibly progressive approach to mental health care.

Would it be too cringe-worthy to use the story of Dymphna/Geel for leverage in getting International Mental Health Nurses Day off the ground?

I understand completely that many would feel uncomfortable aligning mental health nursing with a story associated with one specific religion. However, there are two related tales associated with May 15th: Dympha’s healing, wisdom, kindness and strength, and the related outcome of progressive mental health services evolving in Geel. The power of these stories may give us Mental Health Nurses a foothold on which to raise the awareness, profile and prestige of our work.

Let’s face it – the Florence Nightingale story is integral to the historical profile of general nurses. However, dear old Flo’s story is as dull as dishwater when compared to the story of Dymphna – really! it’s a great yarn – watch the video:

Of course, I have no mandate to suggest the idea of International Mental Health Nurse Day, let alone suggest a date. However, if Mental Health Nurses want to peek-out from behind the skirts of our more glamorous and glorified colleagues, we could do worse than hitch ourselves to Dymphna’s amazing story and Geel’s dynamic approach to mental health care.

15th May as International Mental Health Nurses Day is as good a day as any – isn’t it?

As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 20th May 2013 (with some additional edits on 29th April 2014)

Dymphna: The Amazing Story of a Catholic Patron Saint

May15If you have 6 minutes to spare, please watch my YouTube presentation (above) about a 14yo Irish girl called Dymphna.

Saint Dymphna, as she has been known in death, is remembered each year on the 15th of May – her Feast Day.

My understanding is that Catholic patron saints acquire experiences during their lives that equip them with special empathy for particular causes or problems. Although Dymphna died young, she has been allocated a very broad portfolio of patronages, including:

  • facebookagainst sleepwalking
  • against epilepsy
  • against insanity
  • against mental disorders
  • against mental illness
  • epileptics
  • family happiness
  • incest victims
  • loss of parents
  • martyrs
  • mental asylums
  • mental health caregivers
  • mental health professionals
  • mental hospitals
  • mentally ill people
  • nervous disorders
  • neurological disorders
  • possessed people
  • princesses
  • rape victims
  • runaways
  • sleepwalkers

SMSTo get the full gist of the story please watch the video or, alternatively, you can do as I have done and do a bit of research on the internet. These are the sites I used to inform the story and decorate the presentation (in no particular order):

My thanks and admiration to all those people behind those websites and the stories they contain. Aren’t we fortunate to live in an age where information is readily accessible?

DymphnaScrenshotGeeky Stuff

Technical stuff about making the video (you might want to do something similar).

  • visuals made using Prezi (it’s free, it’s really cool)
  • narration recoded using the “Voice Memos” app on my iPhone
  • transferred the narration from phone to computer via iTunes/iPhone sync
  • the visual and narration bought together using ScreenFlow
  • uploaded to YouTube

It took me a bit of mucking-around to get it right, and there’s quite a few “umms” and “ahhs” in the narration. Nevertheless, if you’re thinking about giving something like this a go I would recommend it. It’s certainly do-able – you’ll need perseverance and patience more than talent.

Hope you enjoy the presentation and, no matter what your belief system, enjoy the Feast Day of Saint Dymphna too.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 14th May 2013