The rewards of being a mental health nurse (part 3)


There is a crisis in recruiting and retaining nurses in mental health. The average age of the average nurse is mid-40s, but the average age of mental health nurses is late 50s.

In part three of our series on mental health nursing we discuss the unique issues for rural mental health nurses.

As manager of in-patient services at Greater Southern area health Service, Julie Mooney, RN, faces challenges unique to mental health nurses working in rural or remote areas – particularly those working in areas beleaguered with problems of drought and/or flooding.

Julie’s community has seen a higher number of mental health presentations as well as suicides recently due to farmers’ livelihoods being decimated by the weather as well as government restrictions on water.

‘It has an accumulated effect on farmers – the effect of years and years of everything going wrong and having no control over it,’ says Julie, who has worked in mental health nursing for 30 years. ‘The farmers can’t control the weather so you can do everything right and then it doesn’t rain for six months or it rains 10 inches in an hour. Rural people have usually inherited the farm so they are the generation who are failing.’

Many female mental health nurses in rural areas are also farmers’ wives, like Julie.

‘This means you are feeling the angst yourself as a person who is part of the community, and then you have to go and work and experience the anguish of other people. It hits very deeply because you really understand what is going on.”

Another issue is one of confidentiality in a small community.  In small communities, everyone knows everyone else so you are often dealing with your friends and acquaintances and it can be difficult because of confidentiality issues, says Julie.

“If you are the mental health nurse people may feel uncomfortable coming to you because they know you personally.”

Staff shortages in rural areas are particularly chronic.

“We can’t even fill the shifts we have got. We are struggling on a day-to-day basis. Nurses aren’t coming into mental health and certainly not in rural areas. I hear students saying they are not encouraged to go into mental health. They are getting the idea at university that mental health nursing is not good.”

“We need to support new grads and increase staffing levels so we can fill our positions as they arrive. If you have understaffed teams everyone gets stressed and leaves, which makes it worse,” says Julie.

Despite the challenges, Julie loves her work. ‘It’s incredibly rewarding,’.

Do you work in mental health? Why did you choose to work in this area?

Don’t forget to enter our latest contest – nominate your favourite nurse in celebration of International Nurses Day!

Image credits:, sighted


What do you think would encourage recruitment and retention of staff?


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