My experience of mental health as a nurse and patient

Paula, Time to Change bloggerI worked as a Nursing Assistant in Acute Mental Health, Elderly Mental Health and forensic Mental Health since 1989 to 2007. Within this time I was seconded to university to study to become a Registered Mental Health Nurse. This is where my eyes began to open regarding my own mental well being.

In many lectures, I started to think the tutors were talking about me: delusions of grandeur, yes I get that; psychosis, a tick to that one too; isolation, I could relate to this, depression, tick and the list went on. My fear went through the roof.

At the end of my 2nd year I was hospitalised for 3 weeks as a voluntary Patient but I was told I would be sectioned if I tried to leave. There I was medicated for a mood disorder. This all felt very surreal. One minute I was administering medication as a Student Nurse and the next minute I was on the other side of the meds trolley being administered medication as a Patient. I remember thinking that this would help me become a good Nurse as I could see things from both sides. I took in everything that the Nursing Staff did - there were both good things and bad. I asked the psychiatrist would it be advisable to continue with my nurse training at my discharge meeting; he immediately said, yes, we need more nurses like you because you understand.

I returned back to university a week later. I decided to be open about my diagnosis - to my own detriment. Walking back into the University took a great deal of courage. I saw all my cohort sat relaxing in the common area. They saw me coming and looked away. Not one of them asked me how I was and I remember feeling very alone. I walked passed them all and went out for a cigarette, my heart pounding through my chest. Then I went on to our first session of the day. I remember thinking: what hope do patients have when the staff cannot even ask a friend how they are. I felt lonely, angry and very hurt. 

By lunch time all I wanted to do was run away and hide but I thought “no”: I have worked far too hard for this, much harder than any of them can comprehend. Outside having another cigarette I was approached by a couple of my peers who said, "We're so sorry Paula, we didn't know what to say" and one of them hugged me. I cried because I felt like one of the gang again and not invisible. It's beginning to upset me as I remember this so I will cut this story short...

Although the university was aware of my diagnosis, no support was given. I went straight into my Community Placement, told my mentor about my diagnosis and was told to keep it to myself. How I got through that Placement is beyond me. I then went onto my final module of Management Placement but became ill again only 5 weeks before the end of the entire course. I passed every assignment and placement I had done but I was timed out  - all of that hard work and no recognition. I received no support from the University and no support from the employers who seconded me.

With no job I felt that I had no purpose. This in turn left me with little confidence and no self-esteem. I had been isolating myself for years. Social isolation is soul destroying. I wouldn't open the curtains, I didn't move from the time my husband went out until he came home. My bones ached. Not eating or drinking until my Husband reminded me that I hadn't eaten. I felt nothing but aches & pains.

After 4 years of asking I got therapy. This changed my life. From there I got suggestions that I should join an art group to help combat my social isolation; just a couple of hours on a Wednesday. I hadn't painted a thing since school but I loved every minute. From there I now hire my own studio and hope to have a solo exhibition this year.

With the right encouragement you can get strong again. I have just been asked to speak at The Rotary Club Dinner about Mental Health. I feel so passionate about all of this, I now want to shout it from the roof tops.


Re: From both sides (26/03/12, 16.42)

<p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 255);"><em>'With no job I felt that I had no purpose. This in turn left me with little confidence and no self-esteem. I had been isolating myself for years. Social isolation is soul destroying. I wouldn't open the curtains, I didn't move from the time my husband went out until he came home. My bones ached. Not eating or drinking until my Husband reminded me that I hadn't eaten. I felt nothing but aches &amp; pains' </em></span></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">This is exactly how I feel, although I have no husbamd to prompt me to do the things that should come naturally daily. </span><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Losing my job robbed me of my professional position, and the daily interaction with people which helped me combat my inner anxieties. I have no social life now, in part because of losing my job, in part because I have spent isolating myself for years because I don't want to be a burden on anyone (nor to be the one who is always miserable) and in part because I simply have such severe anxiety symptoms that I can rarely open the door or answer the phone. I live my life through my&nbsp;computer and my Mum. Despite my medication,&nbsp;my GP and local Community Health Team's support, I honestly feel that there is no hope for the future, and little point in carrying on.......I wish I could see a way out of this dark and desolate place...............&nbsp;&nbsp;.</span></p>

Hello,Sorry to hear you've

<p>Hello,</p><p>Sorry to hear you've had such a hard time over the past few years. If you need someone to talk to the <a href="">Samaritans</a> are always there to listen - you can call them on&nbsp;08457 90 90 90.</p><p>Or <a href="">Mind </a>and <a href="">Rethink Mental Illness</a>, the 2 charities behind Time to Change, both provide really good support and advice lines and may be able to let you know about support groups in your local area: Rethink are on&nbsp;0300 5000 927 and Mind are on&nbsp;0300 123 3393.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Thanks for sharing this,So

<p>Thanks for sharing this,</p><p>So important to have Nurses like you that know what it feels like, recently I was in A&amp;E and seen by Crisis Team after Overdosing two nights in a row and the treatment I got there was rubbish - All I got told was 'Fitness to pratice...' not really what I needed at the time..</p><p>I have a long history of depression &amp; selfharm but yet am in my third year about to start my final placement before qualifying as a mental health nurse..</p><p>reminds me of this ''The Only Difference between the Staff and the Patients is that the staff get the keys!''&nbsp;</p><p>Xx</p>

"I was hospitalised for 3

<P>"I was hospitalised for 3 weeks as a voluntary Patient but I was told I would be sectioned if I tried to leave."</P> <P>I experienced the same thing. It was very frightening to be told that I'd be sectioned when I'd gone in voluntarily. It made me extremely upset and that thought contantly&nbsp;when round and round in my head whilst I was hospitalised. It made me feel worse, and I blamed myself too because I'd gone in voluntarily. Very scary at the time.</P>

Threat of being Sectioned

<p>Hey There,</p><p>I was so angry when I was told that I would be sectioned if I tried to leave as I wasn't a danger to myself or others. Although I was delusional bordering on psychotic, I was not in any way a threat to anyone, in my own opinion. I felt like a criminal yet I had done nothing wrong other than have distorted thoughts.</p><p>When I asked the night Charge Nurse to open the doors and let me out as I was a voluntary Patient, his response was appalling. He told me that the&nbsp;<span class="J-JK9eJ-PJVNOc">RMO</span>&nbsp;would be really pissed off if he was woken up to come to the ward &amp; he would Section me with immediate affect. It is bang out of order to threaten anyone, especially when the person is frightened &amp; in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by strangers. For goodness sake he was the Charge Nurse, he should have sat with me &amp; talk with me, not threaten me.</p><p>In hindsight I guess my stay in hospital was a good thing in the end. Although it started years of anguish, finding the right medication, plowing through years of therapy &amp; finding what was best for me; I know get glimpses of light at the end of this extremely long tunnel.</p><p>I hope that you are well &amp; striving all the time for what is best for you&nbsp;<span class="J-JK9eJ-PJVNOc">xXx</span></p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Mental health hypochondria

<p><em>Everyone</em>&nbsp;has an aspect to their personality that they could choose to classify and acknowledge as a mental health problem. Psychiatrists, counsellors and lecturers (in your case) are just people. Do not let anyone tell you, or worse, convince you directly or otherwise into believing you have a mental health problem. We're all a little odd - some more than others.</p>


<p>Wow you truely are an inspiration</p>

I'm a student mental health

I'm a student mental health nurse, I have been in and out of acute wards as a patient since I was 17 (I am now 22). I started uni in Sept 10 and passed my first year with a 2:1 but then in January I was yet again on a unit. I am due to restart my 2nd year in September. I have applied for Disabled Students Allowance in the hope that I get a mentor to help me through the rest of my course, but I'd I don't qualify then I have no support. I'm so sorry to hear that you didn't get to finish your degree, that totally sucks and is a major downfall on your university's behalf. The education system; from primary to higher education should be doing SO much more to help people with mental health problems. I'm glad that you got back into art and got the help you deserve.

reply to - I'm a student mental health

<p>Hi Samantha x</p><p>It is fantastic that you have decided to continue with your course. It shows determination &amp; strength of character. It was interesting reading your post. There was no help for me at the Uni that I attended so reading that you have applied for Disabled Students Allowance, filled my heart with hope. It is good to know that the support is there for you &amp; I truly hope that you get it. We need more Staff like you, who truly understand. You are a true inspiration. Keep doing what you're doing. The Psyche team &amp; you will find what is best for you re your own mental health issues. My wish for you is that your determination &amp; strength get you on a path where you feel fulfiled in all areas of your life Angel.</p><p>Lots of Love, Paula Ann</p>

Thank you for sharing

Thank you so much Paula for this insight, and to everyone who has commented. I was considering becoming a mental health nurse, after suffering two episodes of psychosis and having made a full recovery. I am reconsidering going down this path as I think memories may come flooding back, and I may have to take placements in wards I have been a patient in. I want to get on with my life. I feel that if I trained as a nurse I would be living my experiences on a daily basis, and never really move on with my life. I have just watched BBC3's 'Dont Call Me Crazy' which has been a real eye opener, and has brought back a lot of disturbing memories, particularly of being restrained. I will try not to put pressure on myself to find another career route, but feel that is what I'll be doing.

Reply to Paula

Im sorry to hear u where faced with such a negative response during your training. I also work in mental health and was in hospital as an informal patient last year due to a severe bout of depression. Nursing is ranked as the fourth risky proffesions for depression & burnout. What ive learnt is that the quality of care u recieve is dependant on the compassion of the staff . Ive met a number of nurses who have had depression..people really need to get past all the stigma. Its one in four at any time..nursey..doctors..teachers..police ..depression isnt selective. Dont ever allow yrself to believe your not wonderful and worthwhile ..depression is a physical illness as is anxiety and its our bodies telling us its time to talk..slow down and be our own best friend for a while x

student of mental health - 3rd year

Dear Paula Thank you for sharing this and it has touched my heart... and brought tears .. as my experience of anxiety ptsd have affected my life so much the past 23 years.. I can so relate to everything you said.. as I have had a meltdown in my last year and have had to take time out of placement and university due to a flare up of the old problems again. I am so sorry you did not get the support you should have through your university; I am very lucky as my university has been so supportive and enabled me to continue my training... I am inspired by your story and it is a valuable lesson to everyone in the student world and academics.. we are all only human and fragile and if you cant feel supported by those teaching about mental health; it brings you to think that there is a big discrepancy going on as that is exactly where you should find the most understanding! We must always foster hope for recovery for those we look after... but hope starts with ourselves and our own personal journey as so many nurses in mental health are there because life events have given them the 'calling' to pursue a career in this most challenging of fields. Your post is a sobering reminder worth posting on every university social networking site! Best wishes to you.

This was very interesting

Thank you very much for blogging about your experience. I think it is interesting that you have been able to see the system through two different eyes and points of view. You help acknowledge alot of the problems that is wrong with the treatment of mental health in this country.

mentally unwell mental health nurse?

Hello my name is emily and I'm 17, I've been worrying so much about this and could do with some feedback on what you think, I would really appreciate it. I would like to become a mental health nurse and plan to apply for 2016 entry. However, for the past 3 years I have suffered very severely mentally, and about 3 a bit less severe before that, with depression, suicidal thoughts, self harm, anxiety and most prominently- post traumatic stress disorder. I have had 2 bouts of councelling each 10 weeks or so, been on floxotine anti depressant, mindfullness courses etc. Currently I feel I am still mentally unwell, from anyones perspective I could seem the absolute height of happiness, achievement and prosperity. ... and in some ways I can be- but i feel that I am always just a 'fuck it' thought away from giving up on recovery. I am addicted to self harm, no doubt. I have not self harmed for 141 days- almost 5 months, and before that very mild incident, 2 years. But, i do think about it most minutes of the day, obsessively, and it is still an extremely difficult task to not give in. I have very low self esteem. I still have the anxiety. Still get suicidal. Still have symptoms of ptsd. I still have most of the effects of earlier abuse e.g difficult relationships, trust issues, sleeping issues, terrible self esteem. My issue is this: I am so fucking passionate and dedicated to the field of mental health, to helping and understanding others, to using my experiences. But, is this a good idea? What questions do i need to ask myself before i decide to do this course? What should i put in place if i do sign up? Need advice man. Please,


Hi there, I'm really sorry to hear that you having a tough time. Please don't feel like you are alone - there are people out there that can help you. Samaritans are now free to call on 116 123. As an anti-stigma campaign we aren't able to offer advice on support directly, but you may find these links useful: Best, Crystal at Time to Change

What did you think of this blog? Tell us in the comments

Email updates

Keep up to date with all our news, information and events via email.

Media centre

Guidelines and contacts for all those who work in the media.


Download leaflets, posters, reports and guidance.

Need support?

If you need urgent support there are many places to go for help.