My job

Motorbiking, wood-chopping and accidental running; what makes mental health nurse Ed Freshwater tick

Community mental health nurse Ed Freshwater has the medical profession in his blood. After training as a healthcare assistant, he now chairs 14,000 members of the RCN Mental Health Forum. He also has an unhealthy attachment to a log-splitting axe.

Community mental health nurse Ed Freshwater @edfreshwater has the medical profession in his blood. After training as a healthcare assistant, he now chairs the 14,000 member-strong RCN Mental Health Forum. He also has an unhealthy attachment to a log-splitting axe

What is your job?

I am a community mental health nurse in the perinatal mental health service at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust. I work with a small, specialist team running therapeutic group sessions for mothers in the perinatal period, primarily around depression and anxiety. There’s a lot of investment and change going on in the field, so it’s quite an exciting time.

I’m also the chair of the Royal College of Nursing Mental Health Forum. Our committee has seven members, and the Forum has more than 14,000 members. Its purpose is to promote professional practice, and provide a place for nurses to debate, influence policy in and outside of the RCN, and be a voice for mental health nurses in an ever-changing environment.

Why did you become a nurse?

My dad was a GP and my mum a nurse. I married a doctor and my sister is a paramedic, so it was a bit inevitable. I got to know about mental health needs by working with some charity and community projects, then as a healthcare assistant in forensic rehab in Aberdeen. I later moved to Birmingham to a medium-secure forensic CAMHS unit. After two years, I was seconded to do my nurse training. My sign-off placement was in the perinatal community team, and I’ve never left.

I was fortunate to be sponsored by my employer to study mental health nursing at Birmingham City University.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

New parents can often be afraid of contacting mental health services through an unfounded fear that we want to take their child away. My most satisfying moment is when mums realise we’re here to help and they’re not alone. For many of the mums that I see, it’s their first experience of someone listening to their fears and validating their emotions.

Working with the RCN Mental Health Forum is a totally different experience to my day job. It’s been a slightly surreal experience to find that volunteering on the committee has had us sitting round a table with government ministers.

What is the greatest challenge?

The challenge I set myself is to empower and enable nurses to be more active in designing and delivering care that makes a real difference.

What would you change if you could?

I don’t think the profession has done a good job of defining what we actually do. For a newly-qualified nurse, we have neither the confidence nor support to deliver evidence-based psychological interventions in line with guidance. Partly I’d want to change the education of nurses, partly change the guidance and partly change the way practice is developed.

Outside work what do you enjoy doing?

I get the most enjoyment from hanging out with my family, but most of my hobbies are solitary. I love riding my motorbike and I seem to have taken up running by mistake. It helps to have some quiet time. We bought a wood-burning stove and I’ve since developed a pretty unhealthy attachment to a log-splitting axe.

What inspires you?

All my heroes, professional and personal, are real people I meet. I’ve worked with some amazing nurses, from the guy who took me under his wing on my first day in CAMHS, to the team that run my local branch of the RCN who supported me during some tough times and some great times.

What makes a good nurse?

Is it too obvious to point out the importance of listening? I’d chuck in a few practical considerations – learn to use a computer and get a Twitter account. Write, publish, present and turn up to everything you can.

What advice would you give to students and junior staff?

Enjoy your job and your life. Be curious, ask lots and listen. The situation for nurses will never improve if we don’t push our way into the rooms where decisions get made. 

To find out more about the RCN Mental Health Forum, follow them on twitter @RCNMHForum

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