Empathy in Action: Honouring Mental Health Nurses on their Dedicated Day

Celebratory banner/header for the Mental Health Nurses day. Picture of a mental health nurse - Julie Butterworth who is a clinical lead. The image also has the 2024 mental health nurses day official twibbon on.

As Clinical Lead and a proud mental health nurse, I am thrilled to welcome you to this special celebration in honour of Mental Health Nurses Day. 
Today, we embark on a journey to acknowledge the remarkable contributions of my colleagues and fellow compassionate caregivers who dedicate their lives to the well-being of others.

This is our moment to shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes of mental wellness. Let’s celebrate the resilience, empathy, and the transformative care they provide.

Now, let’s dive into a Q&A session where I answer questions about mental health nursing, our experiences, and the meaningful moments that drive our dedication giving an insight into the heart and soul of mental health nursing.

Introduction and Background:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey into the field of mental health nursing? 
I originally commenced my nursing career back in the early 90’s as a general adult nurse on the old project 2000.  I converted to Mental Health at the end of the 90’s and never looked back.  Since qualifying I have studied to degree and a master’s degree level.

What inspired you to become a mental health nurse? 
My initial passion for mental health was around dementia and elderly people, however I have had some amazing opportunities within my career pathway practicing and managing a variety of settings including adult mental health, forensic settings, and substance misuse.  I can honestly say I have enjoyed every role I have had, but more recently, I have evolved into more strategic roles including commissioning, quality improvement and service development which is where my passion lies. I truly believe in improving patient experiences and ensuring that services evolve and respond to the needs of all individuals in our care.

Day-to-Day Work:
What does a typical day look like for you as a mental health nurse? 
Over the last 6 years I have taken a lead role clinically in interpreting and developing the National Learning Disabilities and Autism Programme across Yorkshire and Humber.  My day can be varied; some days I will be in hospital settings (This could be adult mental health, assessment & treatment units, secure settings and or Children and Adolescent units) visiting individuals, engaging with their families, and ensuring that people have access to appropriate quality care and discharge plans.  On another day I could be leading multi-disciplinary teams to support individuals to remain living at home during a period of crisis and finding solutions to prevent admissions to hospital.  I also undertake work as a private consultant including strategic work, service evaluations and post incident reviews.

Can you share a memorable experience from your time working in mental health care? 
I have had many memorable moments throughout my career and worked with possibly thousands of individuals and their families/carers during times of crisis. It is always rewarding to witness a persons’ recovery from mental ill-health, and to know that I have been part of the persons journey in some way.  Whether it be as a nurse directly supporting the person, or as part of a team, or as a strategic leader investing in the person’s life; there are so many ways as a nurse that we can contribute.

Challenges and Rewards:
What are some of the challenges you face as a mental health nurse, and how do you overcome them?
There is often banter amongst nursing specialisms, that mental health nurses aren’t ‘real nurses’ which can sometimes feel like ours is a profession that is undervalued and most definitely misunderstood.  Within mental health setting whether it is in a hospital, a police cell or in people’s homes,  we need to be able to respond to physical health needs as well as mental health; I think as mental health nurses we recognise more than most how intrinsically linked physical well-being is to our mental health and we try to make sure that people receive the right treatment, at the right time in the right place.

What aspects of your job do you find most rewarding?
Implementing systems and processes that improve overall quality of care and outcomes for people.

Impact on Patients:
In your opinion, what is the most significant impact mental health nurses can have on their patients’ lives? 
Like with all areas of nursing, people always remember the nurse who listened, the one who was there when it mattered.  When we are unwell, we are at our most vulnerable – this is when we need people who will always act in our best interests. Being a skilled listener and an observer are crucial skills for all mental health nurses.

Are there specific success stories or positive outcomes that stand out to you? 
The most valuable piece of advice that any nurse can be given (and put into practice) is to always treat people with the same level of dignity and respect that we would expect for ourselves or the people that matter to us.  Particularly when people are acutely mentally unwell, they can present many challenges to staff and people around them, however with the right interventions, people can and do recover.  Also always ensuring that you see the person beyond the diagnosis or label.

Self-Care and Well-being:
Mental health nursing can be emotionally demanding. How do you prioritise self-care and maintain your well-being? 
Working in a supportive team with effective leadership from the top is often the key to survival when working in health environments.  On a particularly challenging shift for a mental health nurse, where you can sometimes have 15-20 acutely mentally unwell people, burn out is often unavoidable.  It can also be difficult to feel that peoples’ health and well-being is reliant on you as a clinician, or a manager, or a leader.  Having supportive managers and leaders including effective supervision sessions are key.  Flexibility in the workplace (around the needs of the service) can also ensure you are able to balance work along with things that are important to us in life such as our family and friends.

What advice would you give to fellow mental health nurses regarding self-care? 
Always look after your own mental and physical health.  Us nurses are fabulous at giving advice and caring for others – but we need to ensure that we heed our own advice!

Advice for Aspiring Mental Health Nurses:
What advice would you give to individuals considering a career in mental health nursing? 
Good mental health is as important as good physical health – People often say to me “oh I couldn’t do what you do”, but there are many professions of which I think the same. My advice would always be, if you could do it, then you absolutely should.  There is always a shortage of nurses, particularly in mental health.

Are there specific qualities or skills you believe are crucial for success in this field? 
Within mental health, we often see and hear things that differ from other areas of nursing;  I believe that compassion needs to be balanced with patience, understanding and definitely a bit of a tough exterior.  It’s definitely not for the feint hearted.

Celebrating Mental Health Nurses Day:
How do you feel about Mental Health Nurses Day, and why do you think it’s important to celebrate this profession? 
The NHS and physical health are often referenced daily within the media, whether it’s about wait times,  pressures, strikes or new treatments, however the work of mental health services is often only heard about when it is being given ‘negative press’, or considered for what it doesn’t do, rather than the amazing things that mental health services do.  Acknowledging Mental health Nurses and the contribution they make should definitely be celebrated!

Do you have any special plans or messages for your fellow mental health nurses on this day? 
I always acknowledge and celebrate Mental health Nurses Day on my own social media.  I am really proud of the work we do in mental health and the contributions I have made.  Definitely 3 cheers to us! 

Thank you for joining in this tribute to the incredible work of mental health nurses.
With gratitude,
Julie Butterworth
Clinical Lead Mental Health Nurse