It is Okay to Not be Okay: How Psychiatric Nurses Contribute to Healing and Hope

APNA News: The Psychiatric Nursing Voice  |  July 2020 Members' Corner Edition

Amanda McGillAPNA member Amanda McGill, MSN, BSN, RN shares her perspective on the crucial role of psychiatric-mental health nurses during high-stress community events: 

During these trying times, we see so many people suffering from stress, anxiety, and anguish, it is difficult to know how we can help. As psychiatric-mental health nurses, we are uniquely positioned to support our communities and those across the nation while we are engaged in our everyday personal and business interactions.

We know that evidenced-based care is the therapeutic relationship. It is the number one predictor of treatment recovery in our field, and it is sometimes shocking how quickly we can establish a therapeutic relationship in our work.  The tenets of that relationship are trust and rapport, and now more than ever, we can lean on what we know to support people in our everyday lives.

Being a therapeutic person for someone seems like it would require complex and carefully executed interactions; however, simply taking a moment to acknowledge and show interest in someone is often a great start.

An example: I did not know my stepson’s roommate well, but when I ran into him, he seemed less dynamic than I remembered. He looked flat or tired. I could have left it alone, but I asked him if he was doing okay because I noticed he seemed a little different. He took a moment and stared off toward the sky, then looked back at me and said, "My girlfriend broke up with me, and with the social isolation and curfews, I don't know what to do with myself, and I am so lonely."

"Although engaging in healthy coping skills is a part of mental health, as psychiatric-mental health nurses, we know we need to be heard first. "

As humans, we all have an inherent need to belong and be a part of a group and community and it hurts to be excluded. Isolation can initiate or exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. An assault on our community and members of our community can cause feelings of fear, despair, and anger. We can remind others that it is okay to feel anxious, depressed, angry, or whatever emotion they are experiencing, and that it is also okay to be affected in such a way that it alters routines and usual patterns of behavior.

There is so much advice being given in media about how to cope, it can feel overwhelming. It can even make you feel like something more is wrong with you if you fail to proactively engage in healthy strategies with at least some success. I keep hearing, "What are you doing to uplift your spirits during these times?” We do not have to be in a state of “uplift ready” until we are ready. Although engaging in healthy coping skills is a part of mental health, as psychiatric-mental health nurses, we know we need to be heard first. We need our emotions validated, to know we are not alone, and there is someone out there who recognizes our feelings as valid and is in our camp. For many of us, it is hard to find that person when we are socially isolating.  

An example: I have a monthly phone conference with a woman who supports my website, and I asked her how she was doing with the pandemic and the stay at home orders. She told me how anxious she was and how it had impacted her life. I listened and let her know that I could see why she was so anxious and how she was describing it sounded like a tough situation. She was relieved and grateful to have someone willing to listen to her feelings.

Acknowledging someone, listening, and validating emotions are powerful therapeutic techniques that help people regain control over even intense feelings and are interventions that take just moments to implement. The solution is not always about finding the solution, fixing the problem, or giving advice. In our everyday lives, we have opportunities to practice these skills with those around us and share these skills with others who are close to someone suffering.

Most psychiatric-mental health nurses are sharing their unique skills every day during this unprecedented time but do not recognize it because their skills have become second-nature. We most often do not find out how our interactions positively impact other’s lives, but it is important to recognize and celebrate it in each other.    

About Amanda McGill

Amanda has over 20 years of experience working with individuals with severe mental illness in the acute inpatient setting. She is co-founder of Psychronized, a consulting and training group specializing in evidence-based violence and injury reduction strategies, and improved patient outcomes. Amanda has trained hundreds of hospital staff, law enforcement, and special agents in therapeutic communication and behavioral techniques to improve engagement and prevent violence.

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