As a mental health nursing apprentice, I often get asked, “Why did you choose to study mental health nursing?”. It is a very reasonable question and one you would expect me to have a quick response to. However, I always find this a very difficult question to answer as my response relies heavily on how I perceive the reaction of the person asking the question.
“I was always interested in psychology.” is my ‘professional’ response.
“I have lived experience of a mental illness.” is an honest response.
I am a fierce advocate for healthcare professionals using their own lived experience to inform patient care within healthcare settings but this does come with a warning.
Lived experience is the term given to individuals who experience significant mental health challenges, service use, and recovery, (Byrne, Happell & Reid-Searl, 2015). I understand that not everyone believes acknowledging lived experience is beneficial or helpful.
I am pleased to learn that the value of lived experience is being recognised within the Long-Term Plan for the NHS. The Long-Term plan projects a 44% increase in workforce between 2022/23 and 2023/24 specifically for community peer support workers operating within community settings and supporting those with serious mental illnesses.
Peer support and volunteering are currently the most common ways in which people with lived experience can utilise their expertise in a professional capacity within the NHS. I am of the opinion that peer support is fundamental to the future of the NHS and its ability to create mental health services that understand and provide informed patient centred care for the recovery of its service users.
However, I have had experiences of disclosing my own lived experience to fellow professionals and it being met with hostility and/or judgement. This is a real shame and not only because it is a building block of who I am as an individual but also something I draw upon to inform the care that I deliver to patients.
My warning is, I understand why there can be hostility towards disclosing lived experience and it is at the discretion of the individual disclosing their own experience to make that judgment. Some perceive disclosing lived experience as unprofessional, muddying the waters between practitioner and patient. Others perceive it as risky, weighing up whether it will have value or improve patient outcomes.
It is my belief that being more candid about our own lived experiences amongst fellow peers is how we can be more authentic leaders and promote safer, more effective care within our profession for our patients.
So, which response would you illicit from me, the ‘professional’ response, or the ‘honest’ response?
NHS England (2019). NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan 2019/20 – 2023/24. [online] Available at: https://www.longtermplan.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/nhs-mental-health-implementation-plan-2019-20-2023-24.pdf [Accessed 27 Feb. 2023].
Authored by Eleanor Di Biase, March 2023