Thriving, not just surviving: award-winning toolkit supports the mental health of student nurses and midwives in Manchester

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Tracy Claydon, PEF

As we highlighted earlier this week, Tuesday 10 October marked World Mental Health Day, an annual, global event recognising the impact of mental health on the lives of many and the importance of showing compassion to those struggling with mental ill heath, as well as looking after our own mental wellbeing. As student nurses and midwives, we may experience a broad range of mental health issues throughout our training as we adjust to our role; juggle placement, academic work and our personal lives; and because of the distressing experiences we may be exposed to on placement. Thankfully, the wonderful team of practice education facilitators (PEFs) at the newly formed Manchester Foundation Trust  (formerly CMFT) have our backs, creating an award-winning toolkit for mentors to enable them to better look out for and support our mental health in practice. We are delighted to share this Q&A with Tracy Claydon (pictured above), PEF for the Division of Specialist Medicine and the Corporate Division at Manchester Foundation Trust and project co-founder. She gives us an overview of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Toolkit and how it aims to support students and mentors in practice.

Firstly, what is the Mental Health and Wellbeing Toolkit?

We identified that there was no specific practical guidance to help mentors in supporting students who may be in emotional distress and/or be experiencing issues relating to their mental health when on placement; the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ (2011) indicated that as many as 29% of students may experience mental health difficulties at some point during their studies, while the National Union of Students (2015) have this figure as high as 78%. The toolkit was developed to support not only current nurses and mentors but also of course to support students to better manage the emotional demands of the role and feel supported to carry out their job confidently.

It is possible and also likely that a significant proportion of the students presenting in distress will not have a diagnosable mental illness but will be experiencing distress related to ‘life stresses’ and will need support to allow them to cope effectively with these rather than seeking to be prescribed an antidepressant or similar medication (NHS Choices, 2016). The provision of a toolkit that would provide a structure and framework for mentors to better support their students was clearly needed. The toolkit includes:

  • Tips for mentors including advice on how to discuss and identify concerns
  • Algorithms for accessing support
  • ‘Having the Initial Conversation’ guidance for mentors
  • Top Ten Tips for students to look after their own mental wellbeing
  • Agency Directory

The toolkit was launched in November 2016 and re-launched in May 2017 to coincide with World Mental Health Awareness Week which had a theme of ‘thriving or surviving’ which reinforced our message… we don’t just want our students to survive, we want them to thrive!

Where did the idea for the toolkit come from?

Students will often experience quite harrowing situations during one single placement that possibly other members of the public will go through their entire lives without seeing.

We talk often about resilience, but how do we build this? And crucially, what can we do when anxiety becomes more than a transient emotion? From a practical guidance we recognised that there were gaps in our support mechanisms within the organisation and also that we had the underpinning literature to evidence this.

The Nursing & Midwifery Council and the Royal College of Nursing recognise the potential for students to experience difficulties in their mental health and yet surprisingly neither agency has/had provided any guidance for nurses or mentors to support them.

At Manchester Foundation Trust (MFT) we wanted to fill this gap and the toolkit was developed as a resource to address this. Equally, it was also incumbent upon us to acknowledge how anxiety or a sense of isolation when not managed in the early stages can then escalate into something more concerning.

The goal was to support our students at the beginning, end and at all points in between on their placement and learning journey, so that they will recognise and regard MFT as a caring and compassionate organisation that enables students to thrive and not just survive and that they would wish to return as qualified staff.

How did you go about developing the toolkit?

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Ant Southin, Specialist Mental Health Liason Nurse

It came as a result of a real life situation where I as a PEF was supporting a compassionate and kind mentor who was struggling to support a student on placement struggling with mental health issues. Myself and my PEF colleague Sharon Green, began working on the toolkit as a resource however, the toolkit only truly started to develop when we were able to access the knowledge and skills of Specialist Mental Health Liaison Nurse, Ant Southin (based at MRI, pictured right) who was able to provide the expertise that we as registered adult nurses by background lacked. This enabled it to have a real MDT approach and became a wonderful collaboration!

How has the toolkit been used in practice so far?

For some students the situations they observe or are involved in will be the most distressing thing they have experienced. It is important that they have a means of communicating and understanding these feelings and recognising that there is help available. The Toolkit has been used in a number of situations where students were struggling to cope emotionally: including supporting students who were affected by this year’s Manchester Bombing.

What are your plans for the future of the project?

Despite having been awarded the MRI Fellowship Award at the recent Nursing and Midwifery Conference and also having been acknowledged as an example of Best practice by Health Education North West (available as an E-Win) we feel this work is still in its infancy; while it is currently aimed at students, we recognise that the messages are important for all of our staff. We hope that we can develop it to be used to support any member of staff experiencing distress. The Human Resources department have requested a meeting to begin discussions around achieving this within the wider organisation. We will be presenting at the upcoming Midwifery Forum at St. Mary’s Hospital and we have also had heard nationally from other NHS Trusts interested in adopting the toolkit within their own organisations.

The MRI Fellowship Award 2017 included a £1000 monetary prize which will be used to support ward areas to develop their own ‘buddy box / soothe box’ resource which they can then continue to develop to meet the needs of their students and staff.

…and finally, what advice would you give to student nurses and midwives to take care of our mental health while on placement?

Student nurses and midwives need to feel prepared and supported for the career they are about to embark upon. The profession is challenging and demanding but with huge personal and professional rewards. Mental health issues can affect any of us at any time in our careers and should be considered a priority for all of us whatever stage of our career we are at. By making them a priority for students it is hoped that they will continue to see this as a priority as they progress through what we hope will be successful nursing/midwifery careers. Using our dedicated #icareforme approach we will continue to maintain the profile of the huge importance of self-compassion for staff working within such challenging and complex environments. It is vital that mental health has the same parity with physical health and we can only achieve this by making it the priority it deserves and needs to be.

Thank you Tracy!! If you’re interested in learning more about the toolkit, you can find it here – in particular, take a look at the ‘Top Ten Tips for Good Mental Health’ on pages 8-9 for simple ideas that we can all use to look after our mental health.

Remember that if you are struggling with your mental health or feeling anxious, worried or depressed then don’t try and suffer on in silence. If you feel confident to do so, speak to your mentor, PEF or academic advisor (AA) or the University of Manchester has a fantastic confidential Counselling Service. Often speaking with your peers can ease the burden – you may find that others are feeling the same – or if you simply want a kind, listening ear then Nightline is another brilliant option, you can find the contact number on the back of your student card.

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