Meet Anitha. For the past 20 years, she has been a mental health nurse in a hospital setting. She has been in the trenches in the day-to-day battle for the life and sanity of her mentally ill patients.
Anitha’s story is a departure for My Big Fat Bipolar Life, but I think it’s an important story to tell. She has pulled back the curtain for us, so we can get a glimpse of a day in the life of a mental health nurse. She has wisdom and insight that will help us all better care for our mentally ill loved ones.
Hi, I am Anitha Sara D’souza. I am a dream seller, a passion builder and a hope giver—at least that’s what I like to think of myself. I sell dreams to those who have forgotten to dream. I strive to build hope and meaning in the lives of those who have forgotten to believe in it. I live to ignite passion in nurses and other clinicians who work with various mental illnesses, so they can also be the torchbearers on the front lines of mental illness.
I am a mother of three, wife to an amazing husband, a forever learner and an explorer. My family has lived in three countries and travelled to 26 others. Integrating with various cultures, races and people helps me understand different perspectives, human behaviors and the reasoning behind those behaviors.
Nursing is my calling in life. I did not choose nursing; it chose me. Nursing grew me up and groomed me to be the person I am today. It gave me my individual values, an irresistible passion and an unquenchable thirst that keeps me going even to this day.
I was a shy and a quiet child and then a fun loving, carefree and a vibrant teenager until I started nursing school. Four years in nursing school gave me the skills and the ability to listen for the sounds of danger, pain, alarm, panic and suffering. It also taught me valuable lessons in critical thinking to help translate theory learned the in classroom to the actual world of illness and suffering, but it never fully gave me the satisfaction I was yearning for.
From the very beginning, I was drawn to the human mind and how it works. I sought a better understanding not just about mental illness, but also about the psychological, emotional and spiritual ailments that patients experience on a daily basis.
Working in psych creates a unique breed of loyal, dedicated, brave and compassionate caregivers. They are a team, the true dream sellers. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to pursue mental health nursing. It’s been 20 years today, and I am still learning and growing.
A Day in the Life
My job is never boring. Each day is unpredictable. It could be pure bliss on one day, but occasionally it can be risky. Working with the mentally ill every single day is a roller coaster ride of stress, challenges, and a genuine sense of pride and fulfillment.
The trick is to understand your sphere of influence. The job of a mental health nurse is not just to help the patient, but also to operate amidst a highly stigmatized society.
Being a mental health nurse requires immense training in self-defense and de-escalation strategies. On days, it can be emotionally and mentally draining when I deal with the most complex personalities, with little or no appreciation in return.
Each individual has a contribution to make, both patient and staff. There’s a sense of pride in every ounce of trust a client places in me while he confides his innermost thoughts. There’s satisfaction in successfully de-escalating an overwhelmed teenager.
There are also times it reduces us to tears of stress and frustration, but seeing patients make progress and see a future for themselves, instead of just waiting for an opportunity to kill themselves, makes it all worth it.
There is great satisfaction in seeing patients recover, embrace medication, establish rapport and gain trust.
The lowest moments in the clinical life of any mental health nurse is when the team implodes, and we lose all clinical control. We take pride in calling ourselves dream sellers and hope givers, but ultimately, it’s the teamwork that makes the dream work.
As a mental health nurse, no matter how fulfilling the job, we often get burnt out. Poor staffing ratios, imbalances between work and family life and little or no support from management have always been stress factors.
Over the years, I have seen the stigma and discrimination associated with various mental illnesses, and it never ceases to pain me. If cancer or other illnesses kill a person’s body, mental illness kills a person’s perspective, his very identity and his motive to live.
A Passionate Advocate
In my 20 years of mental health nursing in three countries and across the continents, I’ve become an advocate for those who are vulnerable to discrimination against mental illness. Now I strive to spread the passion, and I work hard to teach and mentor other nurses entering the mental health field.
I firmly believe there is always something that we could all do to make a difference. Mental illness is not a life sentence. There is hope. There is recovery. There is life after the diagnosis.
Anitha’s Tips for Supporting a Mentally Ill Loved One
- Finding adequate support is the key, and the best support may come from people who have been in your shoes. Ask your social worker or case manager to connect you to local support groups to help you cope.
- Mental illness affects not just an individual person, but the entire family. It is often hard to focus your attention on anything else. Caregivers, please take time to care for yourself. Eat, sleep and live a healthy life. Get the exercise you need. Make time for things that give you joy. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. When you take care of yourself, you will be in a better shape to care for your mentally ill loved one.
- Read my post on how to help your loved one cope with mental illness.
Anitha’s passion for advocating for the mentally ill is palpable. Her 20 years of service as a mental health nurse has given her a unique insight into a world that is so misunderstood.
Instead of seeing patients as an extension of their diagnosis and symptoms, she sees them as actual people who need compassion, encouragement and hope. She lives to build up those who have been torn down by the mental illness they live with and the pervading stigma associated with it.
I hope you carry a little piece of Anitha with you today as you manage your own mental illness or the mental illness of someone you love.
Anitha’s blog, Nursing With Anitha, speaks to nurses and the general public alike. No matter what your connection is with mental health—illness or wellness—there’s always something to learn and connect to in Anitha’s blog.