Finding my place in child and youth mental health nursing by Ryan Zeppa-Cohen

In this series, ACMHN members talk about their passion for mental health nursing and how they have grown professionally. This time, Ryan Zeppa-Cohen discusses what pushed him to become a mental health nurse, his experiences leading a team in two different hospitals assisting children and youth, and how being a member of the College has helped his career.

There were a number of factors that, when combined, saw me pursue mental health nursing as my chosen profession. I grew up in Stanthorpe on the Queensland/NSW border and was sent to Brisbane when I was five to undergo surgery at the Mater Children’s Hospital. I can remember the nurses who looked after me during my stay. This made me decide early on to become a nurse. It wasn’t until I attended university for my undergraduate degree that I really developed an interest in mental health nursing. Whilst studying I was rotated through emergency, community, acute inpatient, and extended rehabilitation and was lucky enough to then secure two extended placements within mental health. This cemented in my mind what area of nursing I was going to pursue.

I’ve been a mental health nurse for ten years now, practicing across the Darling Downs and on both sides of the Brisbane river. I consider myself privileged to have been guided by mental health nurses with decades of experience. These include my immediate managers as well as my clinical supervisors - they helped me to develop my clinical skillset and to constantly strive to be a better mental health nurse. They also encouraged me to explore the different and unique sub-specialties that exist within mental health nursing. So far, I’ve spent time in acute, community, emergency, as well as specialised in child and youth mental health and caring for individuals experiencing personality vulnerabilities.

I’ve found my passion in child and youth mental health nursing, and it’s where I’ve been for the past four and a half years. Currently, I’m the nurse unit manager/team leader of a child and youth team based in the emergency departments (ED) of two major hospitals. Our team sees young people and their families/carers when they are experiencing an acute mental health crisis within the ED setting. We also continue to follow up and support the young person and family after their initial ED presentation, because we know the story doesn’t end there and we are in a good position to help engage stakeholders, put appropriate scaffolding in place, and sometimes act as a central contact point for them when they need someone to talk to. I have six mental health nurses on my team, and each of them are highly skilled and compassionate individuals that go above and beyond each and every day for the young people we are caring for. We also have a leadership team in our health service that values mental health nurses and supports and promotes our profession, they are often our loudest cheerleaders.

The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses has also played a pivotal role in my professional development. I’ve been a member for seven years and have been a part of a number of committees and initiatives. My involvement helped push me into postgraduate study and I have now completed a graduate certificate, graduate diploma, and masters degree, allowing me to become a Credentialed Mental Health Nurse with the College. As mental health nurses we know our value, our skillset, and the potential for our profession, and the College is best positioned to be our advocates on a local, state, and federal level. The more people that join and help the College, the more we are able to accomplish. We are stronger together.

I am currently six months away from finishing my second masters degree, which will allow me to become a nurse practitioner. I’m looking forward to utilising my increased skillset within the child and youth mental health setting. When I think about the future of mental health nursing, the main feeling I get is one of excitement. There is so much untapped potential in our profession! We are seeing more mental health nurses at decision-making tables, which is where they need to be.


Australian College of Mental Health Nurses membership, child and youth mental health, Mental health nursing journey

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