Some very kind readers have said that my blog provides a bit of help and info about mental health issues, for which I’m very grateful. Up to now, that has been entirely from the patient’s point of view so you’ll imagine how pleased I am that a long-time FB friend Ken Smith has agreed to be interviewed.
Welcome to the Bingergread Cottage, Ken. Here – there’s coffee and tea on the stove and I’ve put out some cake. Don’t give it to the dog, she’ll only spit it on the floor. Now, Ken, when I asked about your experience you told me:
“I haven’t worked in the NHS since 1981. I had a break from nursing until 1989. Since ’89 I have worked in dementia care settings and for the last 8 years in a drug & alcohol treatment centre.”
Can you expand on that – a very short CV if you would.
Many thanks for inviting me, Ailsa! I left school without any qualifications in 1969 and started training as an electrician for a company in Leeds. I knew after a while this was not the job for me but didn’t really know at that point what I wanted to do. Fast forward three years to 1972 and I found myself working on a rewiring job at High Royds Hospital near Leeds. This was an old Victorian asylum once known as, The West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It was at the beginning of the year so it was very cold and I was up a ladder on the outside of the building fastening cables to the wall. I had been looking around and saw the staff sat in nice warm wards drinking tea and playing snooker with the patients. At that moment I decided I wanted to be a Psychiatric nurse. In my lunch hour I went to the training school and applied. I was told I had to come back in June just before I was eighteen, if I was still interested in applying. Over the next few months I started to talk to the staff and the more I found out the more I liked it. I duly applied and was accepted for training and I started in August 1972 and qualified in 1976.
I worked in all aspects of Psychiatry during my stay at the hospital this included short & long stay wards, occupational therapy and forensic (locked) wards.
I fell out with nursing and left the profession in 1981 to pursue a career in the licenced trade, during this time I managed public houses in Leeds until 1986 when I moved to London to manage a pub in Ealing. I returned to nursing in 1989 in South Yorkshire and worked in a unit caring for Dementia sufferers. I remained in this area of nursing until 2006 when I took up my current position working in a Drug and Alcohol treatment centre in South Yorkshire.
Interesting. The obvious questions next. What has been the best part of working in mental health/addiction treatment?
Initially it was getting a job where I was working indoors and not stuck up a ladder in the cold.
Seriously, the best part of my work has been meeting so many wonderful people, staff and patients. The feeling of satisfaction when you have seen someone who when they were admitted couldn’t hold a conversation with you because of the voices in their head or were so low in mood or so drunk they couldn’t get out of bed at home, even to attend to the most basic of human needs, to then go home and become part of society again is rewarding and very hard to describe.
I also feel lucky to have started nursing when I did. I saw the demise of the old style of care for people with mental health problems and the birth of modern Psychiatric practices. Some of the old practices were verging on criminality and are best consigned to the history books. The current provision is not perfect but it is far better than it was back then.
What did you find most distressing?
I don’t think I found anything distressing, there were things that took a while to get used to but when I trained you were taught to deal with all eventualities in a professional manner. The one thing I never got used to seeing though was the use of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). I thought then and still do that it is a barbaric treatment. It did work for some people though.
I know the answer, but you tell me – is anyone immune from mental health issues? Have you ever thought the job would “drive you crazy?”
No one is immune from mental health issues, Ailsa! I think the latest statistics say that one in four people will at some point in their life suffer from some sort of mental health problem. With modern life the way it is I am sure that number will increase in the not too distant future.
In the early days I sometimes doubted my sanity but the camaraderie amongst the staff was amazing and you found ways to deal with what you encountered on a daily basis. For me and most of the people I knew that meant developing a gallows sense of humour and being involved in heavy drinking sessions.
Is there ever a “hopeless case”? Someone who is so badly hooked on their own personal demon that they won’t win?
In the early days I would have said yes but with the advent of modern medication and counselling techniques I think the answer has to be no! There is a chance for everyone now to live a meaningful life when they have mental health problems.
With all your experience, you have this opportunity to get over one or two vital messages – what are they?
For the people who have or think they may have a mental health problem I would say, “don’t be afraid to talk to people about it”. That may be to your family, friends, GP or a mental health charity helpline. You have nothing to be ashamed of!
For the people who don’t have a mental health problem I would say “ don’t be afraid to come into contact with people who have a mental health problem. Talk to them like you would anyone else. Tomorrow it could be you“.
I support two mental health charities with donations. Both do incredible work to promote a better understanding of mental health issues. I would recommend people visit either of these charities web sites if they want to find out more about mental health problems or need support.
1. SANE Mental Health Charity http://www.sane.org.uk
2 MIND Mental Health Charity http://www.mind.org.uk
Thank you Ailsa! I hope your readers find this interesting.
NO! Thank YOU, Ken for helping me put out a more balanced view on the subject and please do come back anytime to chat on here (and eat cake!)