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Psychiatric Nursing with a Mental Illness?

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Do any of you psychiatric nurses have mental illnesses? Do you think this makes your job harder or easier?

I am interested in psychiatric nursing, but I have a mental illness. I'm not sure if going into psychiatric nursing would be a good idea because of this, so I was wondering if anyone here could share their story with me.

Any suggestions, comments, or advice would also be appreciated.

Whispera, MSN, RN

Specializes in psych, addictions, hospice, education.

I don't have a mental illness but have worked psych and some of my coworkers have had psych disorders. The important thing is that it's stable and you're able to function in the best interest of your patients. I think staff who have psych disorders can be much more empathic toward psych patients than those without psych disorders...

agreed. go for it! Not sure it has to be mentioned, but I think it offers extra compassion!

Orca, ASN, RN

Specializes in Corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC. Has 25 years experience.

If your condition is well controlled, I see no reason that you should not practice psychiatric nursing. I have worked with several nurses with psychiatric conditions who were able to offer insights to patients (and colleagues) that those of us who have only studied these conditions could not possibly give. The flip side was colleagues who had psychiatric conditions and were in denial about needing treatment - like the bipolar nurse who bragged about doing just fine without her Lithium, as she bounced off the walls and generally caused chaos on the unit.

Meraki

Has 12 years experience.

I've worked over the years with a number of nurse with mental illness, some of been able to do so successfully, some haven't.

To increase your chances of being successful you might consider

1. Choose an area of psych nursing that has a different focus than your own illness. So if you have an eating disorder, don't work eating disorders, if you have an addiction, don't work in addictions, if you have PTSD then don't work in crisis, if you have depression don't work in mood disorders etc... I think it really helps keep you healthy to have a bit of distance from your triggers or situations that you can overrelate to.

2. Psych nursing can be physically exhausting but more than that it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Many shifts you leave completely emotionally drained. Mental health nursing takes a toll on everyone's mental health and it takes effort to keep life balanced and to take care of yourself. There is a lot of secondary trauma in mental health nursing. If you already have a mental illness then sometimes that toll can make you vulnerable for setbacks or flare ups or take away from your own health to the point that it is really impacting your illness and ability to keep yourself well.

3. You need to have good insight and reflective introspection and the ability to both emotionally and mentally separate you own issues and situation and illness from your patients. If you can't you will get caught up in boundary situation and 'no one understands but me situations" and it will cause issues in the team and really isn't in the patients best interest. You also have to know yourself well enough to know how and where your illness might impact your job and have a plan and supports to deal with that.

4. You need to really stay on top of your own mental health. If you are slipping or heading downhill then take time off and get well and come back. Staying at work when you are unwell or unable to do your job properly can really damage relationships.

Just a few thoughts. I agree with the others that your experiences can be beneficial and give you insights that can help the therapeutic process.

Good Luck

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I go on Wellbutrin from Oct-March. Before the meds, I became clinically depressed in the winter. It took me about 5 years to get diagnosed. As a psych nurse, I didn't want to admit what was right in front of my face every day.

I think it has made me a more compassionate nurse. But that's just me!

Thank you all for the insightful replies. My condition is under control with medications. Some of the medications I have been on in the past would definitely not have allowed me to go into psychiatric nursing (or even go back to school to begin with). For once in my life, I finally feel "normal." Because of my struggles over the years, I have been considering psychiatric nursing. I am just about to start an ASN program in January, so I still have plenty of time to make a decision.

Another reason I am considering this specialty is because I love helping others work through problems. Since I've had a lot of experience on the "patient" side, I know a lot of the suggestions offered to patients. The field of psychiatry is also hitting home once again. My daughter, now a pre-teen, is beginning to demonstrate behaviors similar to my own at that age. I have been able to talk to her and help her through some of the problems she is having since I have "been there, done that." I have also been able to offer advice and suggestions to other family members and friends. Being able to help friends and family members has made me realize I have a great interest in the field of psychiatry.

Thank you all again for the replies.

Meraki

Has 12 years experience.

Thank you all for the insightful replies. My condition is under control with medications. Some of the medications I have been on in the past would definitely not have allowed me to go into psychiatric nursing (or even go back to school to begin with). For once in my life, I finally feel "normal." Because of my struggles over the years, I have been considering psychiatric nursing. I am just about to start an ASN program in January, so I still have plenty of time to make a decision.

Another reason I am considering this specialty is because I love helping others work through problems. Since I've had a lot of experience on the "patient" side, I know a lot of the suggestions offered to patients. The field of psychiatry is also hitting home once again. My daughter, now a pre-teen, is beginning to demonstrate behaviors similar to my own at that age. I have been able to talk to her and help her through some of the problems she is having since I have "been there, done that." I have also been able to offer advice and suggestions to other family members and friends. Being able to help friends and family members has made me realize I have a great interest in the field of psychiatry.

Thank you all again for the replies.

Hi again pezamistic,

After reading your reply I just wanted to add a couple things. I don't say this to discourage you at all, you could be a great psych nurse but just to add a few things to think about. As you've said you've got lots of time to make a decision and hopefully you will get a chance to do a clinical rotation in psych to get a feel for it.

The first is that your illness is under control and you feel 'normal' - being around people who are stuggling with mental illness all the time may take away that feeling for you as it puts you back into the 'sick' world. As well the fact that your daughter may have mental health difficulties or illness means that you may deal with people struggling in all realms of your life - self, work and family and this can be very draining. You may want work to be something that has nothing to do with mental health or illness so that you can have times when you don't think about it or deal with it. I've certainly foudn that when I've had a fmaily member struggling you come home and it feels like you haven't left work and its hard to find the emotional energy you need for your family.

The second point would be that you really want to help others and you've seen your strengths and ability to really support family and friends - which is great. Depending where you work - helping patients can be a whole other story! There are days when you do really feel you helped or made a difference but often you end up working with patients who don't want your help or don't think they need help and they work very hard at pushing you away or putting down your efforts. There are also days when you are so busy with 100 other things that you get to the end of the day and you haven't had time to help in the way you wanted. I love my job but there are many times I wonder if I really am helping or making a difference.

Just things to have in mind. It can be very rewarding for sure and it may end up being the specialty you want to work in but know that you can in some ways be a psych nurse in pretty much every area as most people who are ill are in need of psychosocial and emotional support, and many have mental health issues outside of the psych wards.

Lots of decisions!

nocshift21

Specializes in psych,geriatrics,sub-acute.

I once had a charge nurse that confided in me that she was schizophrenic. One night there was an incident with one of our residents challenging her to say the least. I had to quietly stifle myself when she told the resident, " Ya know....I got a secret? I'm actually crazier than you !!! They actually connected. She is wonderful & has that insight that many do not have, nor want to...

pinkiepie_RN

Specializes in General adult inpatient psychiatry.

While I find it easier to empathize with patients (particularly when they're manic) it can be stressful and I sometimes wonder if I try too hard to relate to the patients. I can definitely related to why some of them choose to be medication non-compliant and relapse. It's excellent motivation for me to stay in control of my MI and make sure to take mental health days when I need them and stay in good contact with my p-doc and a therapist. I know I can't help them if I'm not being healthy myself.

Hi again pezamistic,

After reading your reply I just wanted to add a couple things. I don't say this to discourage you at all, you could be a great psych nurse but just to add a few things to think about. As you've said you've got lots of time to make a decision and hopefully you will get a chance to do a clinical rotation in psych to get a feel for it.

The first is that your illness is under control and you feel 'normal' - being around people who are stuggling with mental illness all the time may take away that feeling for you as it puts you back into the 'sick' world. As well the fact that your daughter may have mental health difficulties or illness means that you may deal with people struggling in all realms of your life - self, work and family and this can be very draining. You may want work to be something that has nothing to do with mental health or illness so that you can have times when you don't think about it or deal with it. I've certainly foudn that when I've had a fmaily member struggling you come home and it feels like you haven't left work and its hard to find the emotional energy you need for your family.

The second point would be that you really want to help others and you've seen your strengths and ability to really support family and friends - which is great. Depending where you work - helping patients can be a whole other story! There are days when you do really feel you helped or made a difference but often you end up working with patients who don't want your help or don't think they need help and they work very hard at pushing you away or putting down your efforts. There are also days when you are so busy with 100 other things that you get to the end of the day and you haven't had time to help in the way you wanted. I love my job but there are many times I wonder if I really am helping or making a difference.

Just things to have in mind. It can be very rewarding for sure and it may end up being the specialty you want to work in but know that you can in some ways be a psych nurse in pretty much every area as most people who are ill are in need of psychosocial and emotional support, and many have mental health issues outside of the psych wards.

Lots of decisions!

Excellent points. Lots of nurses with mental illnesses find that working in psych cuts a little too "close to the bone" for them, and they prefer to work in other areas.

LilRedRN1973

Specializes in ICU, psych, corrections. Has 8 years experience.

The first is that your illness is under control and you feel 'normal' - being around people who are stuggling with mental illness all the time may take away that feeling for you as it puts you back into the 'sick' world.

For me, I have to disagree with this. I am reminded each and every day how precious my sobriety is because of the clientele I tend to see. I work in an outpatient psychiatric clinic but we see an overwhelming amount of clients who are dual diagnosis. I love working with alcoholics and addicts because it reminds me of how far I've come and how quickly I can be back where I was without recovery. I'm also much more empathetic to those struggling with their own sobriety. Do some of the cases hit home? Oh yes. We had a young lady in here with a 2 month old who cannot stay sober from pain medications (my personal choice of addiction). I was also in her shoes when my son was that age and it brought many feelings to the surface I thought I had dealt with. Which was a very good thing....it made me realize I still have some things to work on. I have also had to practice with boundaries, which again, I see as a positive. Working here as been wonderful for my own recovery and has enabled me to understand what many of my clients are going through, which is something I never would have been able to understand prior to my disease. It has benefited both myself and the clients I see. This may be a personal choice and it may not be the same for someone suffering from depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. I'm just speaking from my own personal experience.

~Melanie

ok2bme

Specializes in Psych, EMS.

I have two...I think my experiences with mental illnesses help me to be empathetic and non-judgmental towards patients. I agree with the person who advised you to not work on a unit that hits too close to home..sometimes their rationalizing will bring you back to yours, potentially inducing a relapse. I think as long as your condition/s are treated and stable, you will be fine and your experiences may actually enhance your practice and interactions. Best of luck!

I know this is in the wrong area but what is a student to do when she suspects that she has a mental illness, and when you feel like you cant tell any one I saw another poster say that you shouldnt tell your teachers. I cant tell my parents they would tell the whole family, should I be a big gurl and find my own help?

R.S., first go to your medical doctor. They can test your thyroid and make sure that isn't an issue. You can work with your medical doctor for diagnose or get referral to a psychiatrist and/or psychologist (for psychological testing). You don't have to tell anyone you don't want to, if you're 18 or older, that is.

Meraki

Has 12 years experience.

I know this is in the wrong area but what is a student to do when she suspects that she has a mental illness, and when you feel like you cant tell any one I saw another poster say that you shouldnt tell your teachers. I cant tell my parents they would tell the whole family, should I be a big gurl and find my own help?

R.S. I'm not sure who told you not to tell your teacher but school is actually the place where many youth access resources for mental health needs. If there is a teacher you are connected to, you could ask if they could refer you to someone who could get you services and supports. You don't have to tell them everything, just enough to let them know you need some help. There might also be a guidance counselor, school nurse or social worker affiliated with your school that you might be able to talk to. If you can get to your doctor, that would be great, however it is good to have a supportive adult in your life who knows about your difficulties so you have someone to turn to. Ideally that would be a parent or family member, but if not, a teacher or other school staff can fill that role.

Definitely talk to to someone, it is a hard first step but you can do it.

Thanks for the replies Im still undecided as to what im going to do i did go to the doctor and he gave me a referral, so i might look into that.

Jules A, MSN

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner.

I'm glad to read that you saw your Doctor and hope you follow up. I would not suggest disclosing this to your nursing school. It was my experience that they were less than nurturing and there to weed us out pretty hard and fast. I'd do whatever necessary to fly under the radar while in nursing school but thats just my personal experience. Good luck.