Mental health is a big word. We’ve seen it making rounds in the internet and in the media. More TV shows, articles, books and movies are gravitating towards this topic— some to raise awareness, others to simply glamorize it.
The best people to give us a real glimpse about mental health are the ones who work closely with the patients themselves. What does it feel like to care for these kind of patients? Fayette tells us what it’s really like to be a psychiatric nurse.
Hi! Tell us bit about yourself and your work.
Hi, I’m Fayette Nacua and I am a psychiatric nurse.
Nursing was never really my first choice, but after I got my degree from Cebu Doctors’ University, I promised myself that I will take on a specialty. So I ventured into a nursing focus that others usually wouldn’t dare to take up: psychiatric nursing. As a psych nurse, I care for those with psychological illnesses and disorders, as well as patients who are struggling with addiction. My patients range from adolescents to retired professionals who seek help before it becomes too late. They’re of varied personalities and age groups which makes everything more interesting. Some days can be bad but I always look forward to the interventions I can do to make things better for them.
What are the common misconceptions about your line of work?
I have to be honest: not everyone can understand this line of work. Even my own family gave me more than a hundred reasons just to pursue something else. They’re concerned for my own safety; they’re scared that the patients might hurt me. Yes, you may get hurt but it’s not like how they portray it in psycho-thriller movies.
There are a lot of misconceptions about this job. One I most often hear is that once you’re exposed to these “dangerous” patients, you’ll eventually become a patient as well. Some people think mental illness is a communicable disease— it’s not.
Mental illness is not contagious and it doesn’t resemble the first attack of a zombie apocalypse. It is not something that would rub off on you once you’re constantly exposed to it. Some people would also say that I’ll eventually fall in love and marry a patient one day. In reality, the ‘Joker-Harlequin’ story is not at all common. Most of my patients are very well-educated and charming but falling in love with a patient? Never a good idea. Believe me, there are always patients who would try to steal your heart away with their alluring charms. In such case, all you need to do is to take a break and set up concrete rules or reinforce the nurse-patient relationship barriers to set things right. Communication is the key.
Nurses working inside a psychiatric facility also undergo self-awareness training to avoid transference or counter-transference before being chosen for the job.
When you are inside the facility, timing is everything. You need to open every sense, especially your common sense. Basic behavior and patient personality are some of the things that you need to master and after that, you’ll know how to react without causing more (physical and emotional) harm to both you and your patient. Constant debriefing also is a must to relieve the mental and emotional tension inside the workplace.
Describe your typical work day.
I love going to work and seeing my patients. When I was still a probationary nurse, I would dream about the activities that I would do to help my patients— I still do. My typical work day starts with a thorough endorsement from the previous shift which lasts for about 1-2 hours. I always ask questions before receiving an endorsement so that I can justify my nursing interventions. After which, we proceed with the daily briefing of the charge nurse with the program director followed by the specific activities (usually exercise and therapy) with a specific time frame together with the patients.
There might be times when patients will become aggressive and that’s when quick critical thinking takes place. Your decision affects not only you and the patient but the entire unit. One wrong move can agitate the patient further but proper intervention can easily calm them down. You don’t learn those skills overnight or ultimately tone down aggression by yourself. You will always need a team and I’m so glad that I have the best team in my unit. After a long day, you always end the shift with a clear and complete endorsement as well.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
There is always joy within me when I think about my area and my job. The most enjoyable part of my job for me, is when our team takes on happy and helpful activities for our patients, when everyone helps out in creating beautiful memories for the patients. The feeling of satisfaction kicks in when the patients discover more about their illness and become better versions of themselves. After all the hard days of calming a patient down (some days we beg them to eat) and understanding them, what makes my heart happy is always a fulfilled client.
On the flipside, what’s the hardest part of your job? What makes it fulfilling? Will you trade it for something else?
The hardest part of this field would be the ‘relapse’. We equip our patients with life skills so that they can tackle life’s challenges but sometimes it isn’t enough. They will need to constantly remind themselves that they can beat the disease by self-mastery, medication and support groups. The nurse’s fulfillment comes when the patient is able to beat the odds and recognize the effort the team has showed for his/her recovery.
Any message to those who want to pursue the same career? What does it take to be successful or happy in your field?
I am a psychiatric nurse. I love my specialty. It has become my safe haven and I’m proud to have the best teammates in the world. My patients are lovely and they keep me challenged and with all that, I wouldn’t trade this nursing career for anything else in the world.
To aspiring/future psychiatric nurses,
When you love what you are doing, it won’t feel like a job anymore. It won’t even be about the salary but the satisfaction of being able to touch lives every day. When you have the right people and teammates to stand with you, your area becomes a home and each day becomes happier than the last.
Find your true calling. Stay with the right people and love your craft with all your heart. This way you’ll know you’re doing something right.