Shine a Light on Mental Health Nurses

This Mental Health Awareness week we are shining light on mental health nursing, through two of our mental health ‘Star Alumni’ nurses.

Randy and Hayley are both graduates from the FNF Mental Health and Learning Disability Nurses Leadership Programme. Hear from them about why they chose mental health nursing, why they wanted to develop their leadership skills, and their thoughts around mental health nursing in general – and what is needed. Randy and Hayley are also joining our 90th anniversary ’FNF 90 at 90’ campaign, celebrating 90 of the nurse and midwife leaders in the FNF community, representing a range of roles working in diverse settings.

Randy Agbodo is a mental health nurse working with children and adolescents. He works as a Matron at Bluebird House, a medium secured CAMHS hospital with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

“Mental health nursing has historically been hugely under-resourced which has really impacted on the health outcomes of people suffering from mental illnesses. I think it is time for governments across the world to show greater commitment and political will by ensuring funding for mental health is significantly increased as this area of nursing has been neglected for a long time. The negative impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of global population cannot be overemphasised.

Also, with the many uncertainties surrounding the world now in terms of wars between countries, political insecurity, increased levels of poverty, high cost of living, etc families are dealing with a lot of pressure and it is absolutely necessary that mental health services are adequately funded to ensure they can mitigate these risks and improve the quality of life that people enjoy, anywhere in the world.”

Choosing Mental Health Nursing

“I qualified as a nurse in 2009 in Ghana where I then worked for ten years. Growing up I had wanted to be a rap artist, then a salesman. However a cousin then introduced me to a different option, she was a nurse and encouraged me to become one too. Until then I hadn’t known that men could be nurses. To be honest I didn’t really know what differences existed between all the different specialties of nursing and just ended up choosing mental health. However after I commenced my training I really became aware of the massive gaps that impeded the delivery of quality mental health care. I also became aware of the impact that mental illness can have on the quality of life of those affected as well as their families and friends and that’s why it’s absolutely important for me that I am able to make a difference in the lives of patients under my care as well as their relatives.

I had some great mentors in Ghana and worked my way to the regional level, coordinating mental health services in my region, Upper West Region. I then had the opportunity to travel the UK to NHS Highlands which was a fantastic opportunity to transfer my skills and knowledge to a different context. In 2021 I then joined Southern Health where I worked in one of our acute mental health units. I progressed from a band 5 to band 6 and then joined the Learning Environment and development team offering support to Internationally Educated Nurses in five units. My main role included, but was not limited to, supporting their integration into the UK, facilitating inductions, supporting with OSCE preparation, signing off nursing competencies . I took the opportunity there to build a network of senior nurses. It was while working there that I also undertook the Florence Nightingale Foundation leadership programme. Then came the opportunity to go for secondment role as a Matron. I was daunted, it was a big jump, but I got it!”

Impactful and impressive leadership programme

“I applied for the FNF leadership programme because I wanted to improve my communication skills, learn strategies to increase my influence and authority and understand the different types of leadership. It has certainly done that. As part of the leadership programme I carried out a Quality Improvement project delivering restorative clinical supervision to nurses on a female acute ward who at the time were dealing with some quite challenging behaviours from patients with very complex physical and mental health needs. This project aimed to improve staff psychological and emotional wellbeing through Restorative Clinical Supervision via 1:1 or group sessions, to improve staff sickness record and reduce work related burnout. 

It’s hard to pick a stand-out part of the leadership programme, I think all the different aspects have had an impact on my development. A lot of mental health nursing is about good communication, you are interacting all the time with people and their families. This is where my experience as a salesman also comes in!”

Hayley Pheiffer is a mental health nurse and Operational Team Manager, South Kent Coast Community Mental Health Team.

“Mental health nursing is a specialism in its own right, often thought of as the undervalued poorer cousin of general nursing. I can recall many years ago a colleague working in A&E commenting “all mental health nurses do is sit, talk, listen and drink coffee with people it’s easy”. What people fail to see are all the nuances and unseen skills that are taking place, such as: connecting with others, being mindful and present in the moment, comforting and able to de-escalate situations effectively, all the while we are also formulating and assessing risks, devising potential management plans, gathering information that will aid a potential treatment pathway, the list is endless. We are advocates for patients and part of our role is to educate and de-stigmatise mental health and associated myths, developing positive working relationships with other professionals and organisations. On the whole we are resilient and deeply empathic, sometimes to our own detriment.” 

“Historically there have been very few options within mental health nursing to develop past the preceptorship in terms of CPD which I hope will improve in the near future. Within our specialism we have the skills to be able to connect well with others, encourage and enable people to develop insight with regards to their difficulties, access the treatment they require enabling them to take more control over the recovery and mental wellness.”

Choosing Mental Health Nursing

“As a young carer I remember the support provided by nurses for my sister and was inspired to do the same. However, when applying for nursing studies, in Wales, I didn’t initially even know that mental health for children was a thing. My student placement changed that, and I then specialised in Child and Adolescence mental health within in-patient and community settings. After that I moved to Kent where I worked in CAMHS services, drug and alcohol and forensic services. I’ve had clinical lead positions, specialist nurse positions and CPN positions, within both the NHS and private sectors. I have also volunteered as a nurse in Africa as well as living and working as a scuba diving instructor!

On returning to the UK, I settled back in Wales and helped set up a bespoke service within CAMHS to actively respond to urgent mental health issues for children within the region.  In 2019 I was super proud to win the RCN Wales Mental Health and Learning Disabilities award as a result of establishing this service and the positive impact this had on patients, their families, colleagues in general, hospitals and improved relationships with paediatric colleagues. This really helped me with my confidence and leaderships skill.  After Covid I returned to Kent, where I now work as Operational Team Manager for a local Community Mental Health team based on the South Kent Coast. I am a mental health nurse first and foremost however being an operational team lead means that I work collaboratively as part of a dynamic leadership team and I am accountable for the team’s performance, operational delivery of safe and effective care and budget management in Community Services for adults over 18 years of age.”

Understanding my leadership style

“I hadn’t heard of FNF before I did the leadership programme. A colleague recommended it as I had shared how I felt I needed something new, I wanted to develop. It was actually the best leadership training to date that I have ever been lucky enough to attend. It was very interactive, challenged my understanding of certain types of leadership approaches and gave me the confidence to start influencing, being present and having a positive impact on my colleagues and team. The MBTI learning in understanding my leadership and personality style to inform how I communicate with and lead others in my team was fantastic, I think everyone should do the questionnaire. It would have helped me years ago when I was struggling to find my voice.

The programme also helped me grow in self-confidence and believe in myself as a leader. For example, it gave me the confidence to carry out my Quality Improvement project.

The focus of this QI project was on recruitment of mental health nurses within the community mental health team due to long standing numerous vacancies impacting on the team and patients.  I gained buy in from colleagues and other staff members (eg in comms and HR) to support a specific recruitment day for mental health nurses. We were successful in filling all the mental health posts at that time which I was very proud of!”

Supporting Future Leaders

To celebrate nurses and midwives in our anniversary year, we have launched a fundraising campaign to raise £90,000 to support 90 student nurses & midwives, 90 early career nurses & midwives and 90 ward leaders & social care nurses. Please make a donation so we can reach our target by the end of this year. Thank you.