Clinical placements

Don't judge patients with personality disorders

When mental health nursing student Nicola Mattocks heard staff making derogatory comments about patients with borderline personality disorder she used her personal experience of the condition to help educate staff and improve patient care.

When mental health nursing student Nicola Mattocks heard staff making derogatory comments about patients with borderline personality disorder she used her personal experience of the condition to help educate staff and improve patient care 

bpd
Many health professionals don't know how to help people with BPD.
Picture: Getty Images

My first placement in my first year of training was on an adult psychiatric ward. My only care experience prior to this had been as an inpatient in mental health settings. 

Although I was nervous, I wanted to do my best and learn as much as possible, so attended multidisciplinary meetings on the ward at which patients were discussed.  

I was surprised to hear how many assumptions and judgements were made about patients with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). After plucking up the courage to ask one of the nurses why patients were talked about in this way, I was told that BPD is an ‘attention-seeking illness’ and is ‘not real’. 

Treated with respect

I was diagnosed with mental health problems at age 14, including BPD, so found the nurse’s comments highly offensive and left the ward in tears. 

Returning next day, I decided I wasn't going to let this get to me, but of course it did. I thought no one would take me seriously if I said anything so I just kept quiet, even though I felt awful. 

Once the placement had finished, I decided to talk to my tutor at university, and provided feedback on my experiences. When I learned that staff on the ward had all been offered training on personality disorders in response to my feedback, I was really pleased. I don't know if it made a difference, but I hope that by speaking out I helped ensure patients were treated with more respect.

Challenge for nurses

My experiences on this placement shaped how I perceived and responded to situations on my next placement, which was in the community. Sadly, I saw similar judgements there, especially at multidisciplinary meetings, at which staff received referrals, assessments and updates on patients. 

This time I decided to speak to my mentor, and also disclosed my own diagnosis. My mentor was really supportive and helped me to understand more about the challenges nurses face when working with patients with personality disorders. 

During this placement, I worked with an occupational therapist. One of her clients had a diagnosis of BPD, and during one of our initial visits I suggested a couple of techniques that help me cope with the disorder.

Still misunderstood

The client found these very helpful, so for the next session I took a book I had made with lists of the things that help when I feel a certain way. This had such a positive response from both the client and the occupational therapists that I spent a whole weekend making similar, smaller versions to give to all the staff at my placement. 

The staff were really grateful for these mini books of coping strategies, which they said would help them to help their patients. 

The judgements and assumptions made about people with personality disorders that I witnessed made it evident that the disorder is still misunderstood, and many health professionals don't understand how to help people who live with this condition. 

I am proud that I did what I could to help educate the staff, and am glad that I was able to make such a positive contribution to patient care.


mattocksNicola Mattocks is second-year mental health nursing student at the University of Surrey 

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs