Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Finding ways to promote positive attitudes

Stereotypes and prejudices pervade society’s perceptions of schizophrenia. Users with this diagnosis, in particular, are continually bombarded with oldfashioned attitudes and assumptions that do nothing to promote optimism for the future; indeed it can leave a person believing they are stuck in the murkiest cul-de-sac of certified insanity (James 2001). Turning pessimism into optimism is a challenge, especially when many ‘off-duty’ professionals continue to reinforce these negative viewpoints. Consider for a moment the following conversation overheard while waiting for a bus:

Psychiatric nursing … Yes, it’s a real challenge [laughs!!!]! A really difficult job! Especially in today’s NHS!! Thank you for acknowledging that – only yesterday, we were so short I ended up spending nearly the entire day, with one client who ended up being sectioned! Poor guy was a schizophrenic – he was so mad! The ward is full of them now and I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a violent incident! To a fellow professional this conversation would not necessarily seem detrimental to clients; after all, the narrator is recalling his experience and explaining the reality of working on one of today’s busy acute psychiatric wards. But, what message is it giving to the layperson waiting in the queue? Might it be something like, ‘Mental health nursing is a “them versus us” hard challenging job, which involves legally detaining mad violent people’? To avoid such type-casting, practitioners need to consider carefully how to portray themselves and describe their jobs and roles. Rather than going for the tabloid headline approach by using the term ‘schizophrenic’ as a noun, it would have been preferable if the above narrative had described the person behind the ‘label’ and included an objective description of the ‘talking’ strategies the nurse had used before the ‘section’ had occurred. This would have instilled a more optimistic view of mental illness and the role nurses play in ameliorating clients’ distress. Overall, there is need for us all to be willing to review our:

attitudes and challenge our assumptions;

listening skills, so we are more able to hear clients’ and carers’ views;

speaking styles and thus avoid ‘talking down’ to clients;

working relationships with other members of the multi-disciplinary team.

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