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Spotlight on mental health nursing

To give you an insider’s view into mental health nursing, we interviewed three mental health nursing professionals about their experiences and views.

The participants included Barry Starmer, a mental health lecturer at Bangor University, Lisa Kinsella, a mental health lecturer at Aberystwyth University, and Russell Jones a lecturer at Wrexham University.

The questions covered the arc of their experience, and here are the highlights.


Were you nervous about your first placement? How did it go? Were you fully prepared?

Barry said:

"I was certainly nervous, but also excited. I think it's an essential part of the motivation process. I don't think you ever feel fully prepared, but I felt supported and safe. Over time confidence grew with my decisions."


In what ways has your experience in mental health nursing changed your perception?

Lisa said:

“Having witnessed the depths of despair that others face at times, has made me very humble and grateful for my life, also very respectful of others, their feelings, beliefs, and differences, and how simple acts of kindness, respect and honesty can really impact positively upon others.”


How do you feel about the patients you’ve worked with?

Barry said:

“I feel completely privileged to have been let into the private world of so many people, helping them navigate a way out of distress and pain. I have many fond memories of all the people I have helped over the years. I feel that Some part of me is still with all of them.”

Lisa said:

“I feel really honoured to have been in the position where they were able to trust me with their most distressing experiences and thoughts, that they valued the support that I gave them, and that they were hopefully able to move on in their lives. I have learnt so much from the people I have met and have hopefully become a better human being because of it.”


What are the important things to know and remember when mental health nursing?

Barry said:

“I think for me beyond anything else is often the simple act of caring and truly being there for someone, listening to them, attempting to understand them with compassion, and being with them with hope. this often outweighs all the technical therapeutic activity in the world if it lacks these qualities.” 

Lisa said:

“I think it’s really important to remember that there is no ‘us and them’, we are all susceptible to having a mental health problem.”


What is your response to how mental illness is portrayed in the media?

Barry said:

"I am hopeful from some minor signs I am seeing that the public is becoming aware enough that they often take the media's presentations of lots of things with a pinch of salt.”


What would you like to say to anyone thinking of getting into mental health nursing?

Lisa said:

“I would say, that you have an amazing opportunity to innovate and change the way services are offered in the future for the benefit of the people that need them."

"You will learn so much about yourself and others, what motivates us and how we all function, and you will meet such different and amazing people through your work who will leave a footprint upon you. But most of all if you really want to live a life with meaning, and to make a positive difference in this world, then you should definitely consider mental health nursing."

Russell said:

“For those thinking of applying to become a mental health nurse I would say why not, you will be prepared by lecturers who are mental health nurses themselves and they will be likely to know the staff who will supervise you on clinical placement. If any difficulties emerge both parties will come together and help talk things through."

"There are many roles available to potential students, from working in acute psychiatric units to community clinics alongside GPs, from adolescent to old age psychiatry, substance misuse services to eating disorders, public health nursing to working in criminal justice."

"There are so many opportunities for staff now and in the future as NHS Wales is investing significantly in services. For instance, there will be a new and bigger mental health in patient facility on the Ysbyty Glan Clwyd site likely to get the go-ahead next year and they will need well trained professionals to be a part of it. Community services are also being expanded recognising the increase in demand."

Barry said:

“The challenge [of mental health nursing] brings personal growth. MH nursing is an activity of continuous improvement of both skills and self. I have felt frequently like an imposter, and it is probably this element that has challenged me the most." 

“[Mental health nursing] is life changing. It is utterly worthwhile. Ask yourself whether there’s anything more worthwhile than helping another person out of distress. Then imagine doing this for multiple people over time, that’s what you call life satisfaction.”