Shifting gears: A growing focus on wellbeing and resilience
Friday 10 June 2022
The College’s International Mental Health Nursing Conference is rapidly approaching – and what better way to get ourselves excited than to hear from our fantastic orator and keynote speakers? In our Inside ACMHN2022 series, we let them take the reins to tell you about mental health nursing in a climate of change, and what to expect at the conference.
In this Q&A, Kim Foster, Professor of Mental Health Nursing at the Australian Catholic University and Northwestern Mental Health, talks about how the pandemic has shifted peoples’ priorities, and how mental health nurses remain resilient during these challenging times.
- This year’s conference theme is ‘Mental health nursing in a climate of change’. What is some of the most significant change that you’ve witnessed over the last few years?
COVID-19 has had a widespread impact on peoples’ lives, and from a mental health perspective has led to most of us reflecting on who and what is important to us and what we need to support our wellbeing. The social isolation we’ve experienced has been really distressing for many and prevented a lot of people from being with those they love and care about. I’ve seen a shift in people valuing their relationships with family and friends more and making efforts to strengthen or maintain those connections. This is important as social connection is a major resilience factor. Another key change has been how people view their work if they’re in paid work. Many, including nurses, have either changed the work they do or the way they do it. Some have decided to retire early. These are important life decisions that are having a substantial impact on individuals, families, communities, and the way health services function.
- What are you looking forward to the most about attending the ACMHN conference?
It will have been three years since we all last met at conference! I’m really looking forward to seeing the long-standing friends and colleagues I’ve met over years of attending this conference. I find the collegial relationships and networks made at conferences are just as important as the presentations. I’m also looking forward to meeting new colleagues, and hearing about the practice initiatives and research that have been led by mental health nurses. We are doing important work with consumers and carers, with students and new graduates, and with other colleagues, and conference is the place to showcase that and learn from each other.
- One of your main interests is resilience. The mental health nursing workforce has probably faced some of its most challenging years in recent times. Based on your extensive research, how do you think mental health nurses, and mental health clinicians more broadly can maintain and grow their resilience in our current ‘climate of change’?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on mental health nurses’ wellbeing and resilience over the past few years as I work in a large public mental health service and have seen first-hand the strain that clinicians and other staff have been under. We’ve also been collecting data on mental health nurses’ wellbeing and resilience during COVID-19 and interviewing them about their resilience.
From our research, some key ways mental health nurses maintain their resilience in the face of stress and change are to:
-> Have close personal relationships that provide emotional and practical support.
-> Recognise their personal strengths and draw on them when feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
-> Proactively cultivate a balance between the demands of work and the rest of their life that works for them.
-> Build supportive relationships with work colleagues. They help reduce workplace conflict and are an important source of support when faced with practice challenges.
-> Use mental skills such as reframing, challenging negative thoughts, and maintaining perspective to help manage practice challenges.
-> Know and respect their own professional values as a mental health nurse and act according to them when faced with difficult situations at work.
-> Actively access and accept support and resources available from their organisation or profession to maintain their wellbeing and practice (e.g. clinical supervision, professional development, psychological support, etc).
- One silver lining – if there actually is one – of the COVID-19 pandemic has been greater focus on speaking candidly about mental health, but also highlighting the shortfalls of Australia’s mental health care system. What needs to improve to meet the growing demand on mental healthcare services in the country?
There is no question that mental health nurses as Australia’s largest mental health professional group have been under-valued and under-utilised in providing quality mental healthcare. It’s terrific that the issue of mental health is being increasingly recognised as a priority in our communities, but our skills are not being utilised to their fullest extent. The mental health needs of Australians are not being met in part because our workforce has not been harnessed to provide much-needed prevention and early intervention along with complex care management.
It’s time for governments to recognise our expertise and enable mental health nurses to function to our fullest capacity so we can support the community. This includes funding more mental health nurse practitioner positions; eligible mental health nurses being enabled to have provider status with Medicare; funding for increased numbers of mental health nurses in mental health services; and funding for initiatives to provide additional pathways and models of education for specialist mental health nursing including pre-registration/undergraduate double degrees.