This blog was sent to us by a NZNO member who works in mental health. We are choosing to keep their details anonymous because of the intense scrutiny that mental health services are currently under. This blog is a personal reflection on their own experience, rather than NZNO’s view, but we are sure it resonates with many of you who work in the sector. We really appreciate them sharing their story, and hope it gives some context to the recent media coverage of our mental health services.
It is 7am and I am off to see a patient in the emergency department. It is a young man who has self-harmed overnight. This scenario is becoming all too common in today’s mental health setting. You see, mental illness is the invisible disease. Presenting to the emergency department in emotional distress, the only visible signs are an unkempt man with a frightened look on his face.
Coming into the cubicle I see a young man in obvious distress. A feeling of hopelessness comes from him. I walk in and introduce myself. We begin to talk. Eyes downcast, feeling somewhat embarrassed as he shares his story with me. He talks to me in a quiet voice. He knows he needs help but does not know where to obtain the help he needs. His relationship with his family has become strained. They have tried to help, but are unable to provide the support he requires.
This man begins to articulate his struggle with schizophrenia. His self harm is due to despair: a belief that life holds nothing for him. By the end of the interview I know I have several options open to me as a clinician:
- We could send him home to his parents. But evidently his parents are unable to cope anymore with his distress.
- We could suggest his GP follow up and maybe a visit from the already over-stretched crisis team.
- Another option is to find a community respite bed for a few days. But we know that these are few and far between. I will have to telephone and “sell” his case to the respite coordinator if I am to make this happen.
- Another option is to try and organise for him to be admitted into the inpatient ward. But I know they are nearly always full or over capacity. This is yet another hard sell to find this young man a place to be safe and be supported.
I go to discuss treatment options within the consult liaison team and the decision is made to admit the young man to the inpatient unit. I call the ward coordinator. “What are his risks they ask?” Not, ‘who he is’, but, what logistical problems might he bring to the unit.
This is mental health nursing today. There is now a ‘risk adverse’ culture that always errs on the side of organisational safety: a system characterised by a lack of choices due to limited resourcing.
This is the young man’s first time in an inpatient unit. I try and reassure him, but as soon we get to the unit the door closes. People are busy. I try and find a nurse. They are few and far between. I eventually find the nurse assigned to my client. A brief introduction is shared, but I know the nurse is trying to get the paperwork done. Admission note, risk assessment, interview with the psychiatrist, place them on the observation board and a host of other tasks. This leaves little time to begin getting to know, understand and work alongside my client to better support them.
I leave my client and return to the ED, there is another case on the board.
This time another young person in a self-harm situation – they were bullied at school and decided to end their life.
Nurses do care, but we are not being given the time or resources to provide the level of service and care that I would want or expect if it was my family member presenting to mental health services.
We do not want to restrict or deny the people we care for their freedoms. Too often the concept of least restrictive practice is sidelined by lack of resources.
The organisations we work for are worried. Worried about risk and what could be in the papers tomorrow. So much so they seem to have forgotten about the core reason we are here – we are here to help.
I as a clinician welcome the reviews and public scrutiny. The current structure needs looking at so we mental health professionals are able to provide the service, care and support that our clients deserve.