Analysis

Nursing students lack training in mental healthcare

Student nurses have admitted fears over a lack of mental health training.

Nursing students who are training to be adult or childrens nurses have admitted fears over their lack of knowledge about helping people who have mental health problems.

They said they had only received minimal training sometimes only one day in a three year course despite growing calls from senior nurses to recognise the importance of physical and mental health needs.

'It is vital to increase mental health training'

Mental Health Practice contacted the students via the Royal College of Nursing Students Facebook page.

'Unprepared'

One student said: Im not well prepared to look after patients' mental health needs or understand the intricacies of their medications and how to promote recovery.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies recently told RCNi that it was important to examine how we enable adult care nurses to have some mental health skills to work better with

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Nursing students who are training to be adult or children’s nurses have admitted fears over their lack of knowledge about helping people who have mental health problems.

They said they had only received minimal training – sometimes only one day in a three year course – despite growing calls from senior nurses to recognise the importance of physical and mental health needs.

'It is vital to increase mental health training'

Mental Health Practice contacted the students via the Royal College of Nursing Students’ Facebook page.

'Unprepared'

One student said: ‘I’m not well prepared to look after patients' mental health needs or understand the intricacies of their medications and how to promote recovery.’

RCN general secretary Janet Davies recently told RCNi that it was important to examine ‘how we enable adult care nurses to have some mental health skills to work better with adults who have multiple needs’.

She added: ‘People often don’t just have either physical or mental health issues.’ 

Primary contact

One student suggested there was a big gap in the training she had received ‘when you consider how many people with a mental health issue will first attend an acute healthcare setting, versus how many adult nurses have any training in mental health’.

She added: ‘Adult nurses will be their primary contact into services and most of us have not had the training or experience needed to deal with people in crisis.’

Some students said they had received partial training on how to help adults, but nothing on how to care for children and young people who experience mental health problems.

Self-taught training

Several students said their mental health knowledge came from efforts they had made in their own time, through their own reading or through volunteering activities outside of their degree courses. Others said they addressed the issue by making sure their placement included training on mental health.

‘I did adult nursing and definitely didn't have enough mental health training. We had one day and a group activity. Because of this I made a point of shadowing the mental health liaison nurses on placement,’ one nurse said.

Another added: ‘I had two days’ mental health training, everything else was off my own back or experiences. It is tough no matter what age you are, but if you have less life experience in certain situations, the training is not there for you. My learning disabilities training lacked even more.’


Students have commented on social media about feeling unprepared when it
comes to mental health. Picture: iStock

One third-year children’s nursing student said: ‘We had part of a module covering mental health, which was pretty poor in terms of coverage and was rushed through. Being based in a district general, I have seen so many children with mental health issues and staff with little or no guidance on how to support them – it's sad, particularly in the emergency department.

'For my elective I've chosen to work with the child and adolescent mental health service team in my local area, just to get a further insight into anything I can do to help. It's vital they increase mental health awareness and training across the fields.’

A review of mental health nursing carried out by Tony Butterworth on behalf of the Foundation of Nursing Studies earlier this year recommended that all nurses, whatever their field of practice, should be able to carry out a mental health assessment and administer mental health ‘first aid’.

One nurse did speak up for universities, saying some are providing their students with appropriate training on the subject.

‘I must praise my university,’ she said. ‘We get many mental health and learning disabilities lectures around treatment, communication issues and issues with recovery. I don't think I'll ever be fully prepared – I feel that way about adult nursing in general – but I’m definitely equipped to start.’

New curriculum 

At Canterbury Christ Church University a new curriculum that includes mental health has been introduced this year for students training to be adult nurses. The university has teamed up with Star Wards to give them access to an online toolkit called Brief Encounters.

Adult nursing students then work alongside individuals with emotional distress to understand their experiences and learn the best way to assist them.

Senior lecturer Jo Kelly said: 'I have wanted to do something for years, we needed to because it's important. Every student group I had asked said "we need more mental health training".'

Ms Kelly’s feedback showed students previously did not feel 'confident to respond' to the situations they found themselves in while on placement.

She said while nurses could not be expected to know everything, they did need to have some fundamental knowledge which would be useful to their patients.

New regulations to include mental health requirements

The nurse academic who is leading the Nursing and Midwifery Council's overhaul of education standards has told RCNi there will be a mental health component in future curricula.

Dame Jill Macleod Clark said all new registrants will be 'able to assess and support people with common mental health problems’.

Professor Macleod Clark explained: ‘One of the things we picked up early on was that registered adult nurses and child nurses in particular felt woefully under-equipped to deal with common mental health problems, and we have taken that on board.'

‘Conversely, we have picked up that those in mental health felt woefully under-equipped to deal with fundamental care needs.’

The new standards, designed to be more concise and clear to follow, will go out for consultation later this year and are expected to be in force some time in 2018.


Tony Butterworth will be speaking about his report on mental health nursing at the Mental Health Practice conference in Manchester on 10 May.

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