Mental health impacts many Australians, with almost half of the 16 – 85 year old Australian population estimated to experience a mental health concern during their lifetime.
Mental health nursing is an incredibly diverse profession that allows you to be creative and innovative in the way care is provided.
In fact, mental health care has changed – care is now delivered across the health sector from acute inpatient facilities to the community setting, providing a range of career opportunities. Alcohol and other drugs is another specialty area, particularly for those working in mental health.
Mental health nurses are consistently in high demand, which means there are limitless opportunities to work, grow and develop in the specialty.
There’s no limit to where a career in mental health will take you.
Hear from nurses working in Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs
Transition support program
More than you think Transition support program - video transcript
I always like to see people that have decided to do well with clients that often don’t have anybody else in their lives. A desire to assist and be an enabler of change, in a service that actually values individual contribution from every clinician and that values that desire to acquire education.
My name is Maria Padilla and I am a Nurse Educator. I coordinate the transition support program which is designed to provide support and learning for new entrants into the mental health service and I am very happy to say that these people hold the future of mental heath in their hands, not be a cliché but it is the truth.
I am very new to nursing I’ve probably been nursing for nineteen months but I was an accountant before. One day I actually realised that I need to do something that is meaningful to me, and mental health is very close to my health because I’ve seen many of my mates have been depressed but never seeking any help.
My background’s in teaching so not nursing at all, and that was a bit of a jump for me. And its great because you see people bring in so many different skills, their life experience into the work which is great. When I started I thought it was going to be a really, really hard day, or stressful day. But it turned out to be a really, really good day because the people that I worked with was like amazing people.
Its like a hundred little things that you learn from the people that you work with and more experienced nurses. Everything from the language you use when you are discussing a consumer, to the kind of medications that you might use. From Kazi for example I learnt the other day that sometimes the best thing you can do for a patient is make them a cup of tea. That sounds so simple but some of the people that we take care of that we work with are lonely, they’re isolated in the community, they don’t have that real basic contact with other human beings that we take for granted. And you don’t realise how much you need that until you don’t have it.
We’re not listening to people, we’re not talking to each other my experience is, people just want to be heard. As a society we just see, just really small parts of them thinking like they’re suffering from schizophrenia or suffering from bipolar effective disorder, but behind that label, they are a human being and they are the most amazing people that I actually looked after.
It is a great privilege to step into to a space where you actually hear the worst and see the worst about a person and to be able to witness that and help your consumer overcome great difficulty and great challenges, its… if you could bottle that feeling, you could make millions.
Some of the stuff that people carry around, just blows me away and you think, how amazing you are that you’ve survived this many years when that’s what you’ve been living with. And so I always try to put the onus back on them “you’re doing so well because you’ve managed and a lot of people wouldn’t have coped with this”. Because if we are looking at just the, “what’s their weakness”, then we can’t help them. So you always, like everyone’s got their own strength, and one of our jobs is to find that strength, and how we can enhance that or harness that strength to help them recover when they go outside.
Its just incredibly rewarding work and it teaches you a lot about yourself, and it teaches you a lot about how prevalent mental health is in the community. There isn’t a day that goes by at work where I don’t ask someone if they’re feeling safe or if they’ve got thoughts of suicide or self-harm and that’s a really blunt question to ask someone who you’ve maybe only worked with a couple of times. And so, you have to find ways to do that, that you find comfortable with and you’re making the other person feel comfortable with. So yeah, it’s a very human profession in that way.
I don’t think id be able to help them, in any other way, that’s just my personal opinion that as a nurse I can do more than I can do for people as an accountant you know, so that’s the reason why I became a nurse and that’s why it still motivates me day to day, every day.
For me its actually seeing from day one at the beginning of February to now, and you actually see that person become more seasoned, become better clinicians to have a greater understanding of the service as a whole of mental illness and mental health as a whole. And I think when they graduate in February I will be incredibly tearful and incredibly emotional.
More than you think Perinatal Wellbeing - video transcript
J = Jenny S = Simone E = Erica
J: Being pregnant and having a baby it’s a really important time of somebody’s life.
J: But in the big scheme of things it’s only a small period of time. I just think it’s a shame if someone has to sit with feeling unwell through their child’s first year of life and then they come to the end of it and go, I sort of missed it.
S: Our service does work, we get people better, we get people achieving their goals and we get people on their way.
E: We help hold on to women’s hope when they’re unable to.
S: I’m Simone Harvey, I’m a Nurse Practitioner and working in Perinatal Mental Health and I lead the team at Logan with Jenny and Erica. We try to get more out in the community so rather than clinic based we sought of realise that for many ladies and families it’s really hard to get to a clinic plus sometimes it’s a bit scary to go to a Mental Health service.
J: We know that a lot of women you know that go to the playgroups or places for social support and sometimes they feel very different to the other mums who look like they’re coping, and they’ve got it all together.
E: They don’t like to come forward because they think they’re supposed to be happy, they’re supposed to be at the happiest time and to say that I’m not coping, that I’m not coping at all and they’re not feeling happy, they don’t understand what’s happening.
J: So, if we can link them with sort of more supportive playgroups or peers load services or places where they are guests, a little bit more flexible, little bit more understandable of where they are coming from, that can help reduce that isolation.
E: Helping reduce the stigma to see people in the community as well.
S: For some new parents its actually hard for them to work out ‘is this the way it should be’, you know we have many women that unfortunately have struggled and you know we’ve realised have actually had depression and they thought ‘well this is how it’s supposed to be’. And so that education is very important, and help isn’t always that scary, help can just be talking, and you know making connections with people.
J: You have to be genuinely interested to hear somebodies story because that’s what makes them, them.
S: that is, a real privilege that people trust us to that extent and that they will you know tell us the most private type of information and to me that’s a big part of being a nurse. Mental Health services like many health services are just busting at the seams, they’re getting more and more referrals and there is just a limited amount of resources.
E: A lot of nurses I think fear working in Mental Health, they just fear the unknown and once you actually start working with people and see that they’re just like everybody else. I think that, that fear level can definitely drop, and you can see that you can really make a difference in people’s lives.
S: I guess we know what we do works but we wanted to prove it and the evidence says and we find this every day is that you know we can get families feeling and their mental health improved in a reasonably quite quick time and it’s a lovely group of people to work with.
Child and youth
More than you think Child and youth - video transcript
Once young people get to twelve they’re begging to take control of their own lives and they could go one way or they could go another, and I guess part of our team is showing them there actually is another way. That there can be a positive outcome from some real negative stories.
My name is Jo Wild, I work as the team leader for Metro South. My names Ryan Zeppa-Cohen and I’m a clinical nurse consultant with Metro South mental health. We’re connecting with the most difficult population at the worst possible time and I think if it wasn’t for teams like ours I would really hate to think what happens to these types of kids.
Their lives are so chaotic, the systems around them are so chaotic and their behaviors are so chaotic that they fall completely through the cracks so we see them at 2 am arriving in our emergency department in the back of a Queensland police, you-know they’re those types of kids so they’re the real difficult to engage kids.
No matter how difficult they are to engage often their behaviors are because they want help. They come in with you know, depression, and they’re abusing alcohol or something like that. You dig a little bit deeper and you find that there’s an extensive trauma background and that’s what they’re trying to do to cope with it. So, you know, you’ve got to then address that before anything else is going to start to improve as well. There’s one that we’ve worked with that’s taken quite a while to build that rapport there who jokes and calls us her professional stalkers. I do like that because the first couple of encounters, didn’t want a bar of it but then eventually you know you keep trying, keep trying. We’re her professional stalkers, I take that as a plus. You have to be someone who’s really patient and someone who’s not afraid. You have to be quite brave sometimes and that can be brave in just the conversation that you’re having with a young person.
Most young people that we meet are quite happy to go for a milk shake, and that’s one of the very few yes’s that you’ll get at the start. You can go to McDonalds drive-thru, we can do all of those things that your generic clinician can’t. And a lot of the time they won’t want to get out of the car, they’re not quite ready for that but they’ll sit in the car with the radio on and have a milkshake and then that’ll be your session, and then you’ll drop them back.
Don’t listen to the bias that’s out there. I get a lot of nursing students that came to me that have been actively discouraged from considering mental health as a career, that its boring or that it’s not real nursing, but no two days are the same. And what I particularly like is when students come in ad they say at the end of it that is exactly the opposite of what I thought it was. That to me says we’re doing the right thing.
It allows me to feel like I’m making a real difference, like I’m going to work to do a real something. And when we get those glimmers of recovery or those really great outcomes and stories, or we just save one kid from going to one emergency department one time, I think we really celebrate those successes.
Be the change
More than you think Be the change - video transcript
I want to be the change. I want to see the change, I want to be the change, that’s why. How many Murray nurses from up in north Queensland can say “I have a masters in mental health”, you know, and I work full time, you know, how good’s that.
My name’s Kristin, I am a clinical nurse here at secure mental health. I never thought I’d be here, never ever and then when I came here I was just like “oh my god, like 90% of the consumers are of the same background as me”. Even when I was younger, going to this hospital… this hospital itself when it was based in north ward, like I never saw any nurses that looked like me, and its north Queensland. There’s a bigger population of Torres Strait islander and aboriginal people here.
This was like, a big smack in the face and I was like “I’ve got to be here, I’ve got to do something”, because I’m in here you know seeing people struggle to get out of institutionalisation. It’s important to me because I need to get them out of the system and keep them out. Give them the tools that they need to stay out.
I mean the statistics are just off the roof, but me compared to my colleague my age I’m supposed to die 17 years before her. I can’t live with that, I’ve got to fight. If I’ve been given this education you know I’ve got to use it for some greater good and I’ve got to fight. You know when I was younger everyone used to look at me like “oh my god you’re crazy, you’re just too much”, and it’s like well I actually have to put that brain into books. Now I’ve got younger cousins that come from Yarrabah and that, now they are all becoming nurses and they are going to finish soon you know. And I say to them “ok well we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep moving up”. Its not about blaming intergenerational problems, things that have happened in our past, colonialism and all those things. You can’t walk around with that chip on your shoulder because this is your life here and now you’ve got to get up and get it.
Why not try mental health for one your two-week placement blocks you know give it a go, see if you enjoy it cos you will trust me. Sometimes students freak out before they come here like “oh my god I’m coming to secure mental health”, “you’re going to get insulted or somethings going to happen or these people are scary”, they’re not scary. They’re human beings trying to live with an illness that’s just not on the outside, it in their head.
I mean, I’ve been a bar tender, I’ve been an IT technician for Education Queensland you know I’ve done all kinds of jobs and yeah this is where I, supposed to be, yeah
Rural and remote
More than you think Rural and remote - video transcript
I thought about doing rural and remote work for many, many years. For some reason it just really attracted me. But thinking about it, dreaming about this is one thing, reality in another. My names Henna, I’m a mental health nurse. I’ve been in mental health many, many, many years. And it’s got to the stage where I just do it blindly. There’s nothing challenging for me anymore. So I took a year of long service last year, specifically to work in rural and remote and I really loved it, I really, really loved it.
When I first looked at the job I did not know anything, I didn’t even know this place existed, I had to google it. Food gets flown in, it’s really, really remote you know. I’m thinking about applying for this job in Doomadgee and all I want to know is can I go and get my girlie stuff done. I’ll figure out something but I’m going. I’ve got the education, I’ve got the experience, now I have to think. I have to think about how I’m gong to deliver care and how to deliver care in the best way.
And it is their way, it is not my way, it is their way. With the aboriginal indigenous population in Australia their health state is very poor. Its poorer than white Australians, it is poorer than other ethnic groups in Australia. It’s appalling. We have tried to do better, but we could do better still.
We need to be progressive don’t we, were not practicing in the eighteenth century any more, we have to have evidence-based practice, particularly with indigenous. It has to be because how we have delivered care so far hasn’t worked and our statistics show that.
I wasn’t born here. I’ve lived here for 38 years and I’m giving something back. I have a good education, good skills, I think working in their own community I will be able to contribute more of a difference than I do where I’m working now.
More than you think Mental Health Co-Responder Model - video transcript
Don’t be frightened of mental health, it’s not freighting, people are just people. Let go of that fear of mental health and come and really enjoy that human connectedness that you don’t get in a lot of other fields. My name is Janet Brack and I’m the mental health Co-responder at Ipswich West Moreton mental health service. So my job is working with the police to attend triple 0 calls that are in some way related to mental health.
I go out and I see people that are in the community, that are struggling, that are just having a bad day, that are in some sort of crisis that, you know, something has happened that has thrown them off-centre or thrown a bit of a loop and it gets labelled mental health, but it’s really not. It’s really just the normal drama of dealing with life that sometimes gets a bit overwhelming. And there genuine significant mental illness in there as well but a lot of it is just misnamed.
Our number one response is threatening suicide. So I do about 48% of threatening suicide. But threatening suicide in police jargon can be anything from someone posting something on Facebook about not feeling like living any more, to someone who’s already hurt themselves or taken overdose or in a very precarious position, so it crosses the gamut, you don’t really know.
In health everyone thinks that the “sexy” jobs are the ED jobs or the theatre jobs or those really sort-of, high pressure but I say to people, we save lives every day. Every day we save lives. You walk into a job and people go “oh I’m so glad you were here, oh I love you guys” so you get a real lot of love in this job which is great. It sounds silly but it’s like having coffee with your girlfriends almost every day, you know just talking to people and hearing their stories and being able to help them maybe see things in a slightly different way.
I think mental health enhances your own abilities and your own humanness because it teaches you how to problem solve, it teaches you how to remain calm in stressful situations, it teaches you to be that calming influence for other people. But it’s just never, never, never boring. I love my job because I just love people. When I started in mental health over 30 years ago there wasn’t even community health, we worked in hospitals, that’s all that existed. We can’t even imagine now where we’re going to go in mental health and what’s going to happen next because no one would have imagined this. In the 30 years that I’ve been doing mental health that is the greatest program that I have ever worked in that’s happened in mental health.
It does give you a sense of self-worth and it does give you a sense of person that’s why you want to go to work every day because you feel like you’re genuinely making a difference every single day.
Alcohol and other drugs
More than you think Alcohol and other drugs - video transcript
When its in the media its always that sensationalist aspect so it is the worst thing that we can see. The guy showing up to the emergency department trashing the place, he’s in crisis most likely. Yes, he could be under the influence of drugs but there’s something going on for him, there’s something that caused him to become aggressive and be that type of person.
It makes headlines and so its clickbait and people wanting to see what its all about. I think if we looked beyond the things that they put on the news then more people would be inclined to join mental health. I’m Emma Grace and I’m a clinical nurse with alcohol and other drugs service. My name is Peter Cochrane and I’m a clinical nurse consultant and I work in withdrawal services and needle and syringe program.
A lot of people think drug and alcohol is the most dangerous area to work in but I can say it from experience, working in mental health, corrections and drug and alcohol that that is not the case whatsoever.
What people don’t realise is that alcohol and drug and mental health actually affects all of the community. Its people that are actually getting on with life and working and holding down relationships but they might still be struggling with that. You know we need to be there for those people as well.
Drug and alcohol has been one of the nicest jobs that I have had. The clients are lovely, having that connection with them and going and speaking to them every day and hearing their stories is really the most rewarding part of mental health and drug and alcohol nursing.
When they do come into a service and they’re happy to talk to you it is really refreshing that they can actually be so honest and open about that and provide you with, some of those I guess really intimate stories that they may not share normally with people. That’s when you can start working with them on their recovery to actually try and improve their situation and address their alcohol and drug issues or their other issues that are affecting them in life as well.
It can absolutely have a ripple effect especially if you’re a parent and you’re helping that parent. And the parent is getting more mental insight and they are doing better mental health and drug-wise, obviously that has a great impact on their kids as well.
It’s just a broadening experience seeing people from different walks of life and actually getting an opportunity to learn about them. Sometimes they feel that they don’t have a voice and that comes with that stigma and possibly the judgment they’ve felt over the years. We can be there to help them produce that voice in a really positive way as well and seek the things that they need to improve their lives.
It’s a career that’s fast moving. You’ll quickly get higher in your career by working in these areas. So, all these things that I never thought I would’ve done has all come from being in drug and alcohol. It’s a great opportunity to grow. Grow as a person and grow as a professional. All you need to do is experience it, give it a chance, and I think you’d find you’d like it, and that small stint might turn into a longer term career.
Connecting with addiction
More than you think Connecting with addiction - video transcript
Substance misuse spans all demographics, all areas, every class. There’s CEOs, lawyers, there’s truck drivers, every single facet of our culture is affected by substance misuse. Just this week I was talking to a client of mine that I’ve been seeing for a couple of weeks and he said to me “oh sometimes I play the piano. I used to be a concert pianist, like I used to play recitals and stuff like that” and I was like oh, I’m going to be honest you have completely surprised me with that.
My names Dan, I’m the acting Nurse Unit Manager of Toowoomba AODS, and that’s the Alcohol and Other Drugs Service. My name’s Chelsea and I’m a clinical nurse with the Alcohol and Drug Homeless Outreach Team. A lot of people have a lot of stuff going on and they wouldn’t end up homeless if they didn’t. You know we all have the capacity to deal with a certain level of stress and a level of comping through those things but when they start to add up, that’s when the problems start to happen.
For whatever reason they’ve decided that substance use is where they get their fulfillment and obviously that has on-flow effects and you know we have seen people in very prominent positions that ended up destroying themselves and they’re in situations of homelessness, where previously they potentially were millionaires. And then on top of that they’re then treated as “other” or blame is placed on them for the situation that they’ve found themselves in when a lot of the time it is completely beyond their control.
People don’t want to see flaws in the system, we want to believe that our society is a safe place and that’s equal opportunities, a fair go for everybody. That’s a really comforting thought but its not true for a lot of people.
People that are far down the path of dependence and addiction have a very isolated life. They are people that unfortunately have been let down by a lot of different systems and communities, families. When somebody is isolated and withdrawn, and their substance use has taken them to a point that they don’t want to stay, sometimes we’re the first people they contact.
The opposite of addiction is connection. A lot of the people that we work with are so distrustful and don’t wasn’t to engage with services, we do, like, we work on them. And they do often form relationships with us and do end up trusting us and that’s a big thing for a lot of people and I recognize that that’s a really privileged position to be in. Part of that treatment brings connection between the clinician and the patient and when that connection happens that’s the beginning of an ongoing healing process that were very proud to be involved in.
Secure mental health rehabilitation
More than you think Secure mental health rehabilitation - video transcript
The best thing about coming into mental health is, you’re coming in, and you are bringing in yourself. You are the tool to whatever you are going to be doing with the patients. You are talking about someone who has committed a crime but has a mental illness at the same time. But you kind-of like, put the whatever offence they have committed at the back panel and you’re concentrating on the person you are dealing with in front of you.
You’ve just got to appreciate that everyone comes from different walks of life and they have different ways they make their conscious meaning of the world around them. So we’ve got to be the ones to help them get the skills and put the supports in place so that we don’t set them up for failure.
If there are any setbacks, its maintaining that optimism and that positive regard for that person. If its two steps forward and ten back, that doesn’t matter. It’s all about that persons journey and that could just be par for the course.
We have the most disturbed unwell people here, and then I heard for example, one gentlemen was completely discharged off on his orders. Took fifteen years, but he’s living a meaningful life. And all of us have played a little part in that. I think anything to do with the mind there’s still this automatic concept that it’s difficult to treat, that it can be dangerous, that it can be perceived as an area that people aren’t comfortable dealing with.
When you’re hearing it from outside, just looking at the walls you might think “oh, what going on in there”. But actually it’s a very friendly environment, so we try to make it a friendly as possible.
It’s actually breaking the stigma. Is it getting better? I don’t know. You don’t hear good news stories in mental health. You hear of death, either by suicide or by you know, crimes committed by people with mental health and they always make the front pages. So we’ve just got to fight the stigma and be positive and say that there is a positive outcome.
Sometimes students freak out when they come here they go “oh my god I’m coming to secure mental health”, they’re going to get assaulted or you know, something’s going o happen or “these people are scary”. they’re not scary, they’re human beings trying to live with an illness it just not on the outside, it’s in their head.
I think at times it is the fear of the unknown because it’s not easily identifiable and there’s no easy treatment. If it’s the body it can be easily x-rayed, it could be tested, a blood test; where with mental health it’s a bit more longer term and there are no clear markers. It could take months, could take years and it could involve multiple services.
I think you’ve got to have it in your heart to do it, you’ve got to have the passion, the drive, because you’ll get some knockbacks. And if you realise that’s the same with every job, but I think you can achieve as much as you want to if your hearts in the right place.
I’d say compassion is the greatest thing there. If you can feel for them and be like “yeah, I really need to help this man to move on and to get better”, that way you will be able to help better in mental health, so compassion ticks that.
I can’t stress enough how important trust is. Trust is the linchpin to all of this therapeutic kind of work. If the person doesn’t trust you, they’re not going to be forthcoming with information and that information is once again, very important. It’s not about disclosing personal stuff, it’s certainly not about that but it’s about using your personality, your world view, the way you see things to connect with that person therapeutically in order to then help them recover.
Human connection is a big thing here. Like your relationships have a lot to do with psychotherapy an mental health.
We’re quite an aging workforce, within mental health. We are within nursing generally and the average age for a mental health nurse roughly now is early fourties. But we’ve actually still got people in their seventies doing it.
I would absolutely say, go into mental health, getting to know someone at their time of need and helping them navigate through this difficult time, helping them navigate the heath system. It can be a rally rewarding journey.
Why not try mental health in one of your two week placement blocks, you know give it a go see if you enjoy it. Because you will trust me. We’ve had a lot of nurse who’ve come from general into mental health but when they walk in you find the situation is very different and its not as bad as people think it can be.
Well it’s not like it is in the movies, it rewarding, its exciting it can be scary, but we do get good results.
Just take it and run with it. Come and work for mental health, take it and run with it, come with us. Come and just join us on this journey because it’s a good ride, its great here.