Mental Health Students: Learning from Personal Stories

This entry is a synopsis of a recent post in my “Mental Illness in the Family” blog, where I talk specifically about how mental health nurses have made a difference for Ben, and for our family.

I know from conversations with mental health professionals that they often feel unsatisfied with the fact that they seldom get to see the results of treatment: patients doing better, people in recovery. For mental health nurses, there is no equivalent of the “reunions” that NICU nurses get to see , to witness  the premature infants they’d cared for, now healthy and grown. That is a shame, I think. I wish sometimes that Ben could “visit” the hospital where he got stabilized, to share how well he is doing now. Maybe someday.

Nursing Students at Fairfield University
Nursing Students at Fairfield University

For now – I feel really proud to have had the privilege of addressing a group of mental health nursing students at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Their professor, Joyce Shea, had heard me speak at the APNA (American Psychiatric Nurses Association) Annual 2011 Conference, and assigned Ben Behind His Voices as required reading for her mental health nursing students.

To my great delight, Ms. Shea shared with me some of her students’ reactions to the memoir, and invited me to speak with them about how mental health nurses can make a real difference in the family experience when mental illness results in hospitalization.

The students had to answer some questions after reading the book, and Ms. Shea was kind enough to share their answers with me.

Question #3 was thought-provoking: What would be like to have Ben as a client?

some answers: “a great experience because these people are special and unique…frustrating because he can be stubborn…challenging yet rewarding to see improvements…his illness does not define him…”

Question #4 brought tears to my eyes: What would be like to have Ben as a brother?

some answers: ” like most other diseases mental illness is a family disease…emotionally draining, difficult not knowing what would come next…struggle to accept everything…scary not knowing which version of my brother I would be dealing with each day…however Ben is very loving so it would probably also be very rewarding if I could help him…”

Not an easy question, perhaps – but a key to the compassion that helps families so much.

I loved meeting these students, and hearing their commitment to the work they are training to do. I was thrilled to have the chance to humanize not only the patients they will meet in their careers, but their families as well.  Since they had already read my book, the messages only had to be reinforced rather than introduced.

I look forward to similar opportunities in the future. One of my hopes for Ben Behind His Voices is that it will reach the professionals, both practicing and in training, to help them see the human face of the illnesses they will try to treat.  I speak soon at Arizona State, Mount Union, and other venues. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about Ben Behind His Voices as required reading. Thanks!

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