Confessions of a Psychiatric Nurse

By Angela Brooks on Thu, Oct 04, 2012

psychiatric nursing as careerThere is no way to work as a psychiatric nurse on a psych ward of a mental hospital and not learn something about life.

I have met some of the strangest and most original individuals. When people find out where I have worked for the last 22 years, their mouths hangs open in awe. Most of the time the phrase, "I don't know how you do it" is mentioned, as they shake their heads.

Yes, psychiatric nursing is an incredibly interesting nursing career path. Still, there are things about working in a mental health institution that I don't like. You just have to bite your tongue and grit your teeth through it.

 

I dislike: 

  • Someone who comes into the hospital just so they can get a check (aka crazy check) when they are clearly healthy but truly too damn lazy to work.
     
  • Mean spirited individuals who use their diagnosis of being mentally ill as an excuse to cling to.
     
  • Prisoners who come in and break furniture, induce violence against the nursing staff, share their rude and unintelligent slurs to the nursing staff and demean them, because they have nothing to lose and will be going back to jail.

    psychiatric nursing as career
  • An addicted individual who tries to use their mental illness to be prescribed Benzo to feed their habit, and then becomes demanding when they are told no.
     
  • Restraining someone in the bed. It makes my heart hurt to see someone, or have to place someone, in that situation. Even though I know at the time it has to be done, because all other options have been exhausted, sometimes it is necessary to protect the staff and the patient. 
     
  • Doctors who come to the unit during a high risk situation and hide behind the female staff for protection. I am not a shield. I am a nurse with a family, just like him.
     
  • Staff who forget how blessed they are because they have a place to go home to, when a patient is crying because they are homesick and cannot return to their home.

The nursing staff often forget that the people they serve had a life before they arrived in the unit. They attended school, had some kind of home, have a mother, father, wife, husband, and/or children. When a new patient comes onto the unit, I always make sure to learn about who they are, not who the chart says they are. I want to know where they used to work, where they went to school, how many brothers and sisters they have, and whether they are married and/or have children. I realized that whenever I approach a patient as a person, rather than as a patient, they open up and let down the walls that they come in with. I get to peep inside of their lives for just a moment and that's the true essence of patient care.
 

psychiatric nursing as career

My psychiatric patients have taught me a lot about life. I have not always liked working in chaos and in hazardous and dangerous situations, but I have always liked talking to the ones I meet. They have shown me that we are all one step away from the admission office when life hands us more than we can bare. They have taught me that just because I cannot see delusions and hallucinations doesn’t mean they are not real. They have taught me the feelings of real compassion for another human when they cannot help themselves. They have taught me that being with family is not always the safest place to be. At times, families hurt family members deeper than a stranger does.

 

As a psychiatric nurse, my life and my outlook towards nursing career has been changed by a mentally insane person. You can be changed too.



13 COMMENTS

Megan Smith 2 months ago
There needs to be more like you. Thank you for your true service.

Anonymous 5 months ago
You shouldn't prescribe meds if you think this, "Someone who comes into the hospital just so they can get a check (aka crazy check) when they are clearly healthy but truly too damn lazy to work." Your would be unfit and more than likely insecure. Clinical nurse's you describe are often ugly inside-out.

Anonymous 4 months ago
1: It's not nurses that prescribe - and we still have discretion to give medicine or not.

2: We have no say as to who gets admitted in to the hospital. That is an external assessment team and if someone is telling you the right things to get admitted, you might not be able to say 'no' to admission. Nobody can fake it for more than a few days at best no matter what you've seen on tv. At that point we can tell they're just blagging the system but there's nothing we can do on the ward to stop them being admitted,

You do get people EXACTLY like Angela described.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Excellent post, Angela! I loved it! Keep up the good work!!

Anonymous 3 years ago
I worked in adult acute psych for 6 years, starting out as a tech and then a charge nurse I truly understand what you refer to. I've worked in critical care since and find my psych nurse skills to be very needed at times and am always thinking outside the box of a normal staff nurse when dealing with difficult situations. I love nursing for allowing me to use all these skills on a daily bases.

Gina Birt 3 months ago
What type of critical care have you worked in? I've heard psych nurses are in demand in the Emergency department settings as the rates of psychiatric pt. admits have gone up substantially in the last 10 years. Is this true?

Anonymous 3 years ago
Being a psych rn I can definitely emphathize the frustraction of patients abusing the system. Great post Angela.

Anonymous 3 years ago
This is awesome! This is my favorite comment when you said: "I confess – my psych patients have taught me a lot about life. I have not always liked working in chaos and in hazardous and dangerous situations, but I have always liked talking to the ones I meet. They have shown me that we are all one step away from the admission office when life hands us more than we can bear. They have taught me that just because I cannot see delusions and hallucinations doesn’t mean they are not real. They have taught me the feelings of real compassion for another human when they cannot help themselves. They have taught me that being with family is not always the safest place to be. At times, families hurt family members deeper than a stranger does."

Anonymous 3 years ago

I work in an acute psychiatric hospital and am surrounded by judgmental staff and it has become so disheartening I want out. It is absolutely unbelievable what comments have come out of the mouths of these "professionals" the latest most disturbing was an RN who was making derogatory comments about a patient who came to us for an assessment and I asked her what she had just said because I felt I must have misunderstood her and she said "oh this stupid patient" I looked at her and said really a stupid patient? how is that so and she attempted to back peddle and excuse her inappropriate, judgmental and rude reference to someone suffering. Another situation was an intake staff who was saying that the patient who had a government funded insurance and owned a recreational vehicle had mismanaged their money...WOW really, so all those people having financial issues are just poor money managers. I would actually like to be around when life teaches her differently. What happened to walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me... and if any information is faxed to the triage department from another facility requesting review for admission I have heard on more than one occasion "oh that one is a borderline" making reference to the many medical problems...that nurse is proud of her advanced degree and judges patients by how nice or not nice they are... next thing you know the DSM will have a diagnosis of "NOT NICE" however it is just a projection of the amazingly NOT NICE so called professionals who are more the norm. They come into the profession for the money and their arrogance and misunderstanding of the most basic of human needs and how when they are out of balance all kinds of behaviors manifest. I am just about finished with the whole medical community. The other day a staff filed a complaint against a patient with a chronic mental illness and the hospital supported it. I have years of experience and if I had the power to correct some of this I would and the first thing I would do would be terminate anyone who made reference to "Crazy Check" etc and they would have to go through a simulated mental illness experience even the personality disorder, endogenous etc. until humble pie was flying out of your entire existence then you would be able to return on probation only if you demonstrated genuine compassion, empathy, non judgment and a 1000 word essay about your experience and how now you will mind your own business and be the healthcare provider you are suppose to be not a judge and jury.What happened to true compassion and empathy, grace and an attempt to assist in the healing process. I could give hundreds of examples however I would rather not feed the monster! I think I am going to change careers and write how to avoid the entire healthcare system which is nothing but a giant business posing as something else. When you have to put up giant billboards to say how great you are, it tells me to turn around and run for my life. There are alot of us out here thinking and acting on that idea, check out, google, utube, library processed people,Dr. Mercola, EFT,American Holistic Nursing.\, and many other modalities where I think the compassionate have migrated.


Anonymous 3 years ago
Angela, as a fellow psych nurse I really enjoyed your post!

Anonymous 3 years ago

Very disappointed with this article. I'm really saddened to see that no one has commented as of yet. You choose Nursing, It didn't choose you. I don't understand how come you have all this negativity towards your assumptions of what your patients do, and why they do it. As a Nursing professional, it's not our role to determine why people do what they do, it's our role to advocate, teach, and provide...not judge or discriminate against those with any sort of diagnosis, not just the ones with a mental health origin. Your wording is inappropriate, and I don't know why it's even published on here to tell you the truth. Mental Illness, is just that, and Illness. For you to make such statements "aka, Crazy check", among many other inappropriate statements, is not in the best interest patients rights as far as discrimination, and your role to be a provider and professional. Mental Illness is an acknowledged disability, therefor, you should watch how you approach this topic. Especially when there are other impressionable students and experience nurses that you are having an influence on. You are conveying that you have a lot of reasons to be dissatisfied with the job that you have chosen. Which in my opinion, opens the door for further misunderstanding, patient rights violations and discrimination. If you have a patient with cancer, or Aids do you think it's ok for you to pass judgement too ? These are diseases, and diagnosed illness? So why is it so different? Because you think it's acceptable? Shame on you. I can go on and on here....but I won't.


Samantha Jones 3 weeks ago
I think the article went completely over your head...

Anonymous 3 years ago
Angela, Great insight into a tough field.