On Monday, March 21, I attended the last event for the academic school year hosted by the RNAO: The Region 7 Mental Health Workshop. The aim of this workshop was to educate Ryerson’s nursing students about the importance of Mental Health in health care and the application of medicine. There was also an emphasis about actions nurses in the field can take to prioritize and maximize optimal outcomes for the mental health of the patient population. The evening consisted of a dynamic panel of speakers – all of whom are professionals in the field of mental health – that provided a unique and comprehensive perspective on the role of nurses play in mental health. Some of the speakers who spoke out on the issue of mental health include: Alumni of Ryerson’s Nursing degree program, representatives from the Toronto Police Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), and a new graduate registered nurse working in Psychiatric Emergency.
Each speaker shared their personal experience in dealing with mental health throughout their clinical practice. The first speaker of the night – a Ryerson Nursing alumni who now worked at Ryerson to guide current nursing students as they navigate through this program – spoke about her experience with mental illness and working with nursing students. She spoke about nursing students being one of the most notorious group of students who experience the highest level of stress. This is all credited to a demanding, highly difficult, and competitive program; having to balance academic work with clinical placements; balancing extracurricular activities; balancing personal life; etc. All of these aspects can create quite a toll on the student’s mental health, as they begin to feel overwhelmed and over-stressed. Without a strong social support network, and without adequate coping mechanisms, the nursing student’s mental health may be compromised. They may feel isolated and depressed, their grades may suffer, their personal life and self-care may be neglected, etc. This speaker spoke about the importance for nursing students to seek help for whatever they may need; whether that’s academic or otherwise. She emphasized the importance of building a strong social support network, whomever that may include, and to take advantage of on-campus resources at Ryerson. Attendees were attentive and receptive to this speaker’s insights, as often times, nursing students neglect to take care of their self as they are too focused on taking care of others. Personally, I found it refreshing to be reminded that my own mental health is important as well, and that while the mental health of my patients is an important prioritization, it is important to take care of my own mental health. Providing care for others begins there.
The next speakers for the evening were representatives from Toronto Police’s MCIT program. One of the representatives included a Toronto Police Officer who is specially trained to handle cases with individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The other representative from Toronto Police’s MCIT program was a mental health nurse, who is specially trained by Toronto Police to respond to cases with individuals who are compromising their conduct in society, due to their mental illness. This was a significant topic for the night, as the involvement of nurses in the industry of forensics is a relatively novel concept. Nurses typically work in the traditional health care environment – acute or community – whereas police officers work in their separate jurisdiction. Although there has been significant co-operation between both industries in several cases, the concept of merging both industries to address issues of mental health has only just been introduced. The speakers spoke about their individual experience with mental health as a police officer and as a mental health nurse. The police officer drew on different strategies he would employ to de-escalade situations where individuals who suffered from mental health were at jeopardy of experiencing trouble with the law. For example, as a police officer, he would often exert force and assertive actions in order to de-escalade situations and calm the individual down. If the situation escalated any further, he would be forced to apprehend the individual and take them to hospital to treat their mental illness. The mental health nurse described her role as the individual who would be typically more successful in de-escalating the situation and calming the individual down. She noted that most individuals tend to avoid police officers when in this state, for fear of repercussion, so they would prefer to talk to someone else. In this scenario, the mental health nurse is particularly useful in communicating with the individual, negotiating with them, and working with them to ensure they receive the most adequate care for their mental health illness. With both roles working together in the community, they prove to be a very successful service for the municipality of Toronto. They promote health and safety within communities in Toronto but addressing mental health crises experienced all over the city.
The final speaker of the evening was a new graduate RN, working as a psychiatric emergency nurse at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. This final speaker was especially significant as not only was she working in the mental health field, she also experienced mental illness herself early on in her life. This was a highlight of the evening as not only did we get to hear the insights and perspective of someone working in mental health, but she was also able to enlighten us with her experience as a mental health patient. She spoke about the struggles she faced making sense of her illness as a young child, how it progressed when she entered university, how difficult it was for her to find the help that she needed, and what resources she used when she was finally able to find the help that she needed. She talked about ending the stigma related to mental illness, and emphasizing how important it is to understand that mental illness is a biological and chemical imbalance in your physiology, not an “attitude you just need to fix.” She spoke about not being ashamed about having to take medication for your illness, and how taking medication can be life-saving measures to take. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that was beyond nursing and professionals. Hearing this perspective from someone having experienced both sides of the spectrum – both the patient and the health care provider – renewed my personal way of thinking, and my own clinical practice. She talked about how her personal experience has catapulted her career and how she uses it to affect positive change in the mental health of her own patients today, and how her personal experience today not only shaped her as an individual, but has shaped her personal clinical practice.
Needless to say, this workshop provided quite a dynamic and varied range of perspectives and insights on mental health. Nurses are often used to hearing quite similar and repetitive talks about mental health issues and what we can do to address such issues with the patient population. During this night, new perspectives and thoughts word brought to the table. It gave eager nursing students something to really think about in terms of new ways to tackle mental health issues. It opened eyes and doors to different opportunities that will enable you to affect positive change in mental health on a larger scale. At the end of the night, attendees were able to leave with a renewed understanding of what mental health means to them, their patients, and to their clinical practice.