Inside ACMHN 2022: Mental health nursing Australia through a pandemic of uncertainty
Monday 16 May 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 ACMHN 2022 series, we let them take the reins to tell you about mental health nursing in a climate of change in Australia, and what to expect at the conference.
First up is Kim Usher, current editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing and Professor of Nursing at the University of New England. Kim talks about how the pandemic has left a lasting mark on Australians’ mental health, and why the conference is a great space to learn more about mental health nursing practice and research.
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?
The theme of the conference is extremely relevant to our current situation. The previous few years have been a time of unprecedented change. We have witnessed many different types of disasters in Australia, bushfires, tornadoes, floods, and more floods. On top of those extreme weather events, we have experienced the worst global pandemic in a lifetime – COVID-19. All these events have impacted the mental health of our community and led to a predicted rise in the need for mental health care in coming years.
In addition to the lives lost due to these events, communities have also experienced increased unemployment and financial stress; both known to be linked to poorer mental health, and increased rates of domestic violence, drug use and suicide. The pandemic has caused high levels of uncertainty, fear, and distress. Lifeline recorded their highest ever daily call volume during the pandemic and Kids Helpline also reported a rise in calls for help. Domestic violence rates have soared since the start of the pandemic and the need for services related to domestic violence have escalated.
"Mental health nurses have an important role to play in community recovery"
As the earth’s temperature rises, we will continue to be ravaged by extreme weather events, infectious diseases, food shortages as crops fail, loss of livelihoods and forced migration due to changing local conditions. As always, the people most affected are those most vulnerable; older people, young babies, and children, those with serious illnesses, as well as the poor and socially disadvantaged. Mental health nurses have an important role to play in community recovery. Most people will recover from these changes and disruptions to their lives, but some will not do so well. Nurses will continue to play a pivotal role in recovery.
What are you looking forward to the most about attending the ACMHN conference?
I always enjoy the ACMHN conferences to catch up with other mental health nurses and to hear the new research being conducted. I attended my first ACMHN conference in Sydney (the second ACMHN conference) and have attended many since.
They are always great events with lots of opportunity to meet other mental health nurses, chat about their work and the challenges they face, and to attend interesting sessions on issues related to practice and research. I am also looking forward to meeting new members of the College and spending a few days on the coast.
You are the editor of the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. How has this current ‘climate of change’ influenced the topics of articles submitted to the journal?
The IJMHN journal has received a great influx of articles since the start of the pandemic; the pandemic seemed to be a great encouragement to do research and submit articles to journals. Many of the articles we have received have been related to the pandemic and the issues of mental health arising from the pandemic.
This year’s conference program is jam-packed with interesting presentations relating to some of the biggest challenges the mental health nursing profession has faced in the past decade. Which presentation are you looking forward to the most and why?
I am looking forward to the presentations related to COVID-19 and its impact on mental health. One of my areas of research is the impact of disasters on survivor’s mental health. I have written editorials on the topic that have been very popular with our readers and with researchers. Our research team have also conducted a few diffident types of research related to the pandemic and I will share some of those findings in my Oration address.
Last but not least, as a seasoned presenter, do you have any advice for our younger mental health nurse speakers on how to prepare for their conference presentation?
I remember my very first time presenting at the ACMHN conference -it was in Adelaide- I was so nervous I could hardly speak. Now I have realised the audience comes to your session because they are interested in your topic. It is your opportunity to tell them the great things you have done; remember you are the expert on your topic. So be confident and make the most of the opportunity.