Opinion: Recognising the value of Mental Health Nursing

Friday 26 April 2024

Mental Health Lecturer, Scott Macpherson
Mental Health lecturer, Scott Macpherson, highlights how an opportunity exists to help steer mental health nursing in a positive direction and to encourage more people into the profession...

Mental health nursing in Scotland is facing what some have called a ‘staffing crisis’.  Vacancies for mental health nurse positions have more than doubled in the past 7 years and around 9% of mental health nursing posts were vacant at this point last year.  Here in the North East of Scotland, the situation is no different. There are simply not enough mental health nurses in the region to fill the vacancies that exist.  Simply put, we need more mental health nurses.

The answer to this problem seems to be to produce more mental health nurses through our universities, but the truth is that not enough people are applying to study mental health nursing. The number of people choosing to study mental health nursing is failing to keep pace with the demand for mental health nurses in Scotland.   This is a worry for people who need access to mental health care.

With increasing demand for mental health services, the Scottish Government has commissioned a Mental Health Nursing Review. The review is expected to continue until late 2024 and is engaging mental health nurses, people with lived and living experience of receiving mental health nursing care, carers, students, charities, trad unions and professional organisations.  The aim is to identify ways to attract more people into the profession, and to find ways to better support and develop mental health nurses once they are in posts. 

If we continue to under-recruit to mental health nursing courses and fail to fill mental health nursing positions, mental health care will suffer.  This will lead to unacceptable experiences and outcomes for individuals but will also have a wider impact on the local economy, particularly when people are unable to work due to their mental health struggles. It is therefore vitally important that we prioritise mental health and support people to be healthy so that they are fit to work in our local organisations, services, and industries to boost our local economy.

Valuing the economic power of care is the focus of the upcoming International Nurses’ Day on 12 May.  The annual celebration recognises the incredible work of nursing staff across the world, and this year calls on nursing to be seen as a profession that can bring real economic and societal benefits. 

With crisis comes opportunity, however… this could be a great time to start a career in mental health nursing.  Unlike some other nurse specialist roles, those who choose to study mental health nursing need not worry about whether there will be a job available for them at the end of their course. Once in post, opportunities for diverse employment experiences and career progression are excellent. If, as expected, the Mental Health Nursing Review leads to meaningful change in the field, those embarking on a career in mental health nursing now will benefit from better working conditions and improved job satisfaction in the future. 

An opportunity exists to help steer mental health nursing in a positive direction.  This is a career where the ability to listen to and value people’s experiences are qualifications that are at least as valuable as previous experience of working in healthcare settings.

Some people feel drawn to nursing, while others (like me) find their calling during their studies.  Mental health nursing students come from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and this often helps expose students to a rich variety of ways of thinking about the world, other people and, indeed themselves.  This creates the opportunity to develop the skill of perspective taking which is crucial to treating people with empathy – one of the foundations of good mental health nursing practice.  It is critical that we recruit more people to study mental health nursing if we are to protect the mental health of people across Scotland.

If you are curious to find out more about a career in mental health nursing you can register to attend  Robert Gordon University’s Mental Health Nursing Showcase Experience on Wednesday 1 May, 4-7pm.

Scott Macpherson is a Mental Health Lecturer in the School of Nursing, Midwifery & Paramedic Practice.

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