Tips for nurses by a former mental health inpatient
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Tips for nurses by a former mental health inpatient

Mark Ellerby

Talking with people on a mental health ward can foster positivity and a proactive approach to recovery

I have been a mental health inpatient for two periods of my life. The two stints on the ward, which each lasted about a year, were very different. The first was positive and productive – even enjoyable – while the other left much to be desired.

Mental Health Practice. 26, 5, 14-14. doi: 10.7748/mhp.26.5.14.s7

Published: 05 September 2023

A major difference was the role of the nurses on the two wards. On the second they largely stood back and observed, while on the first they made every effort to interact with patients and be part of their day-to-day lives.

Staffing levels played a role in this. With relatively few nurses caring for a large number of inpatients on the second ward, they did not have enough time to spend on each patient as an individual, despite them having a named nurse.

This made a huge difference to the experience of being hospitalised. During my first stay, the ward had a social atmosphere which made it a more pleasant place to be. In the other, it was far more austere and much less conducive to making positive therapeutic progress.

As someone with schizophrenia, talking makes a huge difference. It is only through talking that, as a mental health inpatient, you truly understand the caring ethic of the nurses. Conversation helps you to understand the nurses are there to look after you and are acting in your best interests.


Picture credit: iStock

Interaction does not have to be more than a brief chat now and again, but can be meaningful for patients. This conversational and communicative style of nursing helped me to concentrate on my mental health. It also brought me and the other patients out of ourselves so we became more involved with each other’s therapeutic journeys.

Part of this is as simple as a chat with a nurse being able to lift my spirits when my mental illness was bringing me down. It also helped to take my focus away from the paranoid thoughts which are part of life with schizophrenia. The nurse’s voice can provide clarity when you are hearing things.

With a named nurse, you know you are being cared for individually, and the therapeutic relationship builds over time as the nurse gets to know you. They are your partner in confronting the illness, and a compassionate companion to talk to about the emotional suffering it causes.

Treating the whole person

What is also important is that, simply through having a conversation, it helps you to realise you are a person of value outside of and aside from your illness. Good mental health nurses treat you as a whole person instead of just the symptoms you have. This was the foundation of all the progress I made on the ward.

It helped me be motivated to get out of bed in the morning. It helped me to talk to other patients and swap experiences with them – something that is so important in demonstrating other people were experiencing similar things to me.

It alleviated the boredom of being on the ward, especially during a roughly year-long admission. It changed the atmosphere so I did not feel so confined.

Being on a well-run ward feels almost like being part of a family. It conjures an atmosphere of safety which, in my case, helped to rekindle an interest in life – whether that might mean conversations with other patients, or even just reading newspapers. Without this, the therapeutic process has no solid foundation. Instead of using our minds and engaging with the world, patients are simply staring blankly at the television or into space. Maybe they are even sedated – but when the sedation wears off, no progress has been made.

Being in hospital is restricting and is likely to be a difficult time for anyone who experiences it. But, in a ward where the right environment is cultivated, it is tolerable and it can be a positive experience. This begins with mental health nurses.

Having a positive relationship with a nurse does not ensure that the therapeutic journey will go well – but without one, progress is very difficult.

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