Adopting a unique approach and environment to conventional services, Cypress Hospital is an independently-run, 14 bed, mixed gender, short-stay open unit, providing a fully resourced, nurse-led acute step-down service for people who are in, or recovering from, a mental health crisis. Ashley Cole talks about what it’s like to work as a Registered Mental Health Nurse at Cypress Hospital in Newton Abbot.
Tell us a little bit about you and what drew you to a career in mental health
I’m Ashley and I’ve worked as a mental health nurse for about 6 years (2 of those at Cypress). Previous to that I was a support worker for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems and before that, a teaching assistant for people with learning disabilities. What drew me to a career in mental health was being able to support people to become more independent and help people have a better quality of life.
How did you become a mental health nurse?
Prior to my current role, I was working in schools as a teaching assistant for children with learning disabilities and mental health problems. I did a teaching degree and then I started a PGCE but found that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I kind of felt that was how I should progress after being a teaching assistant, but I found that what I really wanted to do was to support people to become more independent and have a better quality of life, so I decided to become a support worker where I was supporting people in the community.
From there I thought where can I take this where I can have more of a stable career with a bit more consistency when it comes to hours etc. So, I looked into nursing and mental health felt the most appropriate for me as it’s got that direct engagement with people and is less clinical and more about building rapport and the interpersonal relationships. Although it was a bit of a change in career, I felt that the same skills applied that I had developed with the teaching which transferred into mental health. I went back to university for 3 years to do mental health nursing.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Most days are pretty different. Working with people, it’s never going to be the same every day and for me, there’s two kinds of typical days. If I’m in charge of medication, the typical day would be ensuring that everyone’s down for their medication and prompted when needed. I would do physical observations to ensure the patients are physically well, chase up medication and get prescriptions written by the doctor, things like that.
The other typical day would be running and planning the shift with the team who are in that day – allocating jobs and tasks to support workers and everyone in the team, planning days with patients including appointments they may have, reviews with the consultant and other members of the team like social workers and care coordinators. From the reviews there’s actions and goals that are set which we have to put in place for the patients to move forward, for example they might need to attend certain groups ahead of the next review.
There’s also a lot of the interpersonal activities like meeting with patients directly every day. One thing we do here at Cypress which I think is quite unique, (not unique exactly, it should be done everywhere but in my experience it’s not!) and you definitely see consistently here is staff meeting with patients at least once a day to see how they’re getting on – 1:1s with patients where you might ask them how is your mood today, is there anything bothering you particularly and from there we can access their mood, mental state and risk levels. Working here, the patient definitely comes first and we prioritise that 1:1 with them every day.
What do you enjoy most about working as a mental health nurse at Cypress Hospital?
The team is amazing. All the team are really approachable and really patient centered. I also enjoy working with the patients – meeting different people and hearing different stories and supporting them to move forward with their lives. There’s good training opportunities too. Recently in my supervision I was talking about the availability of psychological training and I was put on a DBT course which is psychological therapy training.
Just everything about it really! It’s an amazing place to work. It’s difficult to be specific because there’s so much I love about working here.
What would you say makes Cypress unique?
There’s a greater sense of autonomy as a practitioner such as involvement in the referral process, which is not something I’ve seen anywhere else. I’ve mentioned 1:1s being a big part but also, because of the nature of the patients we have, we get much more time with them in terms of direct contact. The other great thing that drew me in was the hours and flexibility to do longer days which means you get a really good work/life balance.
What’s the most rewarding aspects of your job?
I think the most rewarding thing is just seeing the change in the people you support. Often you see there’s a point where things turn around. It’s not like a ‘oh look what I’ve done’ kind of thing, it’s more like, wow being here has really helped that person, by not just an individual but with the help from the entire team, and obviously the patient has to help themselves in some ways too. It’s seeing that turning point and seeing their lives improve. Then there’s the feedback we get afterwards which comes through on the Cypress News. It’s anonymous which means it’s more honest and it’s generally always good feedback!
Ashley’s tips for anyone embarking on a career in mental health:
I’d probably say get a feel for it first. Maybe do some kind of bank support work. Some people might already have those skills and things in place before becoming a mental health nurse but I think it’s definitely worth getting a bit of experience as a support worker just so you can build on those interpersonal and communication skills and get to know the kind of tasks involved. Be open to every member of the team – just because they’ve got a different title it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them.