Stand up to the stigma of mental illness
Working with an inspirational community mental health nurse gave nursing student Robyn Ambrose the confidence to challenge those who express negative views about mental illness.
Working with an inspirational community mental health nurse gave nursing student Robyn Ambrose the confidence to challenge those who express negative views about mental illness
Before I started my mental health nurse training, I was a care support worker in an acute mental health setting that provided care for people with a variety of mental health illnesses, including emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).
This condition is also known as borderline personality disorder, and the mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness estimates that around one in 100 people in England have it.
Despite its prevalence, there is still stigma attached to a diagnosis of EUPD, as with many mental health conditions. This was made clear to me in my role as a care support worker; when EUPD was mentioned an occasional groan would go up from my colleagues. People with EUPD are often judged because they can be seen as more ‘needy’ than others, and can be challenging to look after. Whereas some mental health illnesses can be treated with medication alone, people with EUPD really benefit from therapies.
On my first clinical placement as a nursing student, which was in the community, I worked alongside a nurse with a totally different attitude towards those with EUPD. This nurse showed real compassion towards a service user with the condition, listening carefully and ensuring that her care was always person-centred.
World of difference
It was refreshing to work with someone who did not judge people with EUPD and just wanted to ensure they got the right care. The nurse explained that with the right support and interventions – such as ‘regulating emotions and looking after yourself’ (RELAY) – people can be taught coping mechanisms to help prevent further harm.
I also learned the importance of the small things, such as a chat over coffee, which can make a world of difference to the person you are supporting.
This nurse showed me the kind of nurse I want to be. After working with her, I am more confident that any bias I come across in the future will not affect my outlook or my practice, and I feel more able to challenge those with negative views.
Mental health problems can affect anyone. Imagine if you heard a negative comment about a mental health condition that your friend or family member was living with. You might feel angry or upset. Think about this before passing judgement or comment; if it is not okay for someone to make negative comments about your friends and family, it is not okay for you to make them about someone under your care.
The next time you hear about a patient or service user being ‘difficult’ or ‘taking up too much time’, remember they are human too and could be experiencing great distress.
Be the change you want to see in the world, and aid people in their recovery by educating others about the effects of stigma. Hopefully, in this way we will be able to change perceptions and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.
About the author
Robyn Ambrose is a first-year mental health nursing student at Bournemouth University