The role of a student mental health nurse is both challenging and rewarding in the ever-evolving healthcare landscape.
Mental health nurses are on the front line, providing support to individuals struggling with mental health issues. However, despite their dedication, many student mental health nurses express a profound sense of not knowing enough, highlighting their field’s complex and often uncharted nature.
I am a final-year nursing student, and although I engage in self-directed learning, completed my academic blocks and attended all the mandatory training and placement allocations, I qualify in a couple of months.
“The journey of most student mental health nurses is a profound exploration into the depths of the human psyche”
I still don’t know if, at this stage, I am supposed to know what I am doing. The journey of a student mental health nurse begins with a deep enthusiasm for helping others. Equipped with theoretical knowledge, they step into the clinical arena, ready to make a difference.
Yet, as they immerse themselves in the practicalities of their role, the realisation dawns that the complexities of mental health extend far beyond the pages of textbooks.
Aspiring professionals face the daunting task of dealing with the ever-changing and varied mental health problems in society. All individuals have their complexities. Therefore, the different types of mental health illness are myriad.
This creates the feeling of being ill-prepared to handle situations they may encounter. Despite rigorous training, the human mind remains an enigma and every patient brings new challenges, as well as new skills to learn and be applied to provide person-centred care.
Meanwhile, staying abreast of the latest research and treatment modalities is crucial. However, many student mental health nurses express a sense of inadequacy in keeping up with the rapidly-evolving field. The gap between theory and practice widens as new findings emerge, leaving them grappling with the constant pressure to update their knowledge.
Moreover, the stigma surrounding mental health adds another layer of complexity. Student mental health nurses find themselves addressing the clinical aspects of their role and combating societal prejudices. So often, when interacting in society, I find myself defending people with mental health challenges using the phrase ‘how would you feel if you felt like this or felt like that?’
And after all the explaining and me applying the theory that I recently learned, they remain unfazed by what I just said. And I cannot convince them to develop empathy for something they don’t understand.
Furthermore, the emotional toll of working in mental health care is often underestimated. Student mental health nurses are exposed to the raw vulnerabilities of individuals in crisis. This emotional weight and the responsibility to provide adequate care can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue. Adequate emotional support and coping mechanisms are often overlooked in their training.
The journey of most student mental health nurses is a profound exploration into the depths of the human psyche. Despite their unwavering commitment and extensive training, the uncharted nature of mental health challenges persists. There is a pressing need for ongoing education, increased awareness, and enhanced support systems to bridge this gap.
Only through a collective effort to understand, destigmatise, and continuously learn can student mental health nurses hope to navigate the intricate web of mental health and provide the holistic care that every individual deserves.
Soneika Atkinson is a final-year mental health nurse student at the University of Essex and former Nursing Times student editor