As a student nurse I encounter mental health issues on a daily basis, however I have been carrying my own secret for years. At the age of 15 I was diagnosed with depression and placed on anti-depressants. We have a family history of depression and anxiety with my Nan undergoing ECT. I remember my GP telling me ‘you won’t end up like nan, this will be short term’.
Twelve years later, I am still on anti-depressants. Through this time, I found myself ‘coasting’ with my medication as accepting that ‘this is as good as it gets’. Only when starting my training did I realise that it didn’t need to be like this. I went to my GP and he referred me to the community mental health team to see a specialist, the first one I’d seen in 10 years since my original diagnosis. He diagnosed me with resistant depression and borderline personality disorder. For the first time I felt my condition was finally being taken seriously and it was something that could be treated.
I also become more open about my illness. I had my medication changed and additional medication added in. This was done just before my first placement of my second year. Not only did I have to deal with the stress of placement (37.5 hours a week on placement, uni work and a part time job), I was suffering side effects from my medication, nausea and dizziness mainly. I did not let this stop me and was open with my mentor and she was very supportive. Once again I felt I was finally being taken seriously.
On a different placement I then encounter another issue: night shifts. My mood is very dependent on my sleep pattern, I take medication at night which causes drowsiness. I became very stressed about this and discussed it with my doctor and tutor at uni. I’m required to do at least one night shift on my training in order to qualify. I decided to try it, so I spoke to my mentor and explained – I said I was on medication and so on. Her response was ‘well what medication?’ I felt this was very personal to me but explained anyway. I said I was happy to do a ‘twilight’ shift in which I would start at 7pm and leave around 2am her response was ‘no you do all the shift, or not at all’.
I was shocked. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had a physical condition this wouldn’t have been an issue. I was left feeling humiliated and shamed. I carried on with my shift and something else happened, something small, and I just broke down. I felt like this was a huge set back – for the first time in my training I felt the full force of the stigma of mental health problems. I was most shocked that this came from a nurse. How could they not be more accommodating of a serious health condition? This type of attitude is damaging to people who experience mental health problems, and to the nursing profession as a whole.
I am nowhere near the end of my mental health story and I know I will have set backs throughout my nursing career. Sometimes I wish I had a long term physical condition as it would be easier to explain. However, although depression doesn’t define me, it is a huge part of me – and surviving this has made me a stronger. It has also helped me become a better nurse, and hopefully I’ll help reduce mental health stigma along the way.