Confessions of a Psychiatric Nurse

For psychiatric nurses, there’s no shortage of life-lessons to be had. From the people you meet to the situations you find yourself in the middle of, there’s always something exciting going on. As a psychiatric nurse myself, I know firsthand just how strange and difficult the work can be. And most times, I’ve just not been prepared to handle a lot of the situations. But somehow, I keep making it through and learning lessons along the way. That isn’t to say there aren’t bad days – there are lots of them! In fact, I’ve got a few secrets to share with you about the realities of the job and how it can be difficult to deal with on a daily basis.

  1. The “Crazy” Excuse

I see this all the time: people come into the hospital pretending to be “crazy” just so they can get out of something else. It happens a lot with otherwise healthy people who are struggling to go to work. Most of the time it is pure laziness; they come in and act how they think psychiatric patients must act so they can be checked in for a few days and skip out on work. I’m not really sure why they think a stay in a psychiatric hospital is preferable to going to work. It isn’t the most pleasurable place to be for an extended period of time.

Another thing we see a lot are prisoners who come in because the alternative is going back to jail. While a psychiatric hospital is probably a bit more relaxed than prison, it’s not really close to pure freedom. But we see these prisoners come in and act violently and abuse the staff all in the name of getting out of jail. All it does is cause problems for the staff and for the other patients and take away resources from people who need them.

  1. Bed Restraints

Did you know that psychiatric nurses often have to restrain patients? When a patient is having an episode or becomes uncontrollable, sometimes the best thing to do is restrain them in bed so that they can’t get out or move around. This is a really painful thing to do because no one should be tied up like an animal, but you also have to remember that it is a matter of safety. Patients who require restraints are often in danger of harming themselves or others, so these strong measures need to be taken.

  1. The Guilt

Working with patients who are constantly in distress is hard on us psychiatric nurses, there’s no denying. It’s really tough to have to see what these people are going through; it can be very emotionally draining. And along with that discomfort comes guilt: the guilt of know that I get to go home at the end of my shift, that I have a nice comfortable home and a family that I get to talk with each day. These patients don’t have that. They don’t often see their families, and it could be weeks or months between visits for many of them. There is an astounding amount of guilt in being able to leave the facility when the patients cannot.

  1. Family Feuds

One would think that family members would be the most useful resource available to psychiatric nurses, but it has become clear to me that oftentimes, family is the worst thing for patients. Too many times family members simply abandon the patients, assuming that they are receiving good enough care and don’t need family presence. They aren’t aware that family support is helpful in the treatment of many psychiatric patients. Working with family members and trying to convince them to visit usually doesn’t amount to much. And sometimes, being in the psychiatric hospital is an even safer option than remaining at home with uncaring family.

How to Deal

There are a lot of negatives that come along with being a psychiatric nurse, and a lot of things go on that most other nurses aren’t aware of. But I’ve learned that no matter how difficult the job, it’s important to give psychiatric patients the same level of compassionate care that I would offer to patients in a regular hospital or clinic.