Nurses are commonly asked the question “Why did you choose nursing?” While there certainly are many answers to this question, it is common to hear about one’s desire to provide care to a vulnerable population, the opportunity to make life better for others in the community or the satisfaction that comes with work that is so varied from day to day.
This is true for many nurses who work in behavioral health, also known as psychiatric nursing.
Psychiatric nurses care for patients in crisis. People seek psychiatric care for many reasons, but one of the most common reasons is depression combined with suicidal thinking. According to the surgeon general, between 2001 and 2009 an average of 33,000 suicides occurred each year in the United States. In the “2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention,” a report of the surgeon general and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, notes that for every person who dies by suicide, 30 more attempt suicide. Of great concern is our adolescent population – suicide is among the top three causes of death for young people ages 15 to 24. Clearly, the need is present.
It is reassuring to see this topic making its way to the national agenda, and we, as community members, must do our part to ensure suicide prevention becomes a top priority for our nation’s leaders, as well as for local leaders.
The 2012 National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention highlights prevention strategies including raising community awareness of suicide rates, reducing prejudice around mental disorders, and training health care staff and the general public to recognize warning signs of suicidal thinking.
Behavioral health nurses, along with other professionals in the treatment team, receive special training in how to address the issue of suicidal thinking. They are well-equipped with the special skill set needed to assess individuals at risk and to provide care to those in crisis. The behavioral health nurse must have advanced therapeutic communication skills, knowledge of risk factors, the ability to assess suicide risk and formulate a plan for safety, and, perhaps most importantly, compassion toward those who feel suicide is their only remaining choice.
With a safe and supportive environment, therapeutic counseling and medication therapy, many individuals are able to come through their crisis and find quality in life. Many behavioral health nurses would probably say the most gratifying part of their work is helping these patients to find meaning in their lives – starting with a glimmer of hope that, when nurtured, can shed enough light to illuminate the next day.
Leanna Ross is a registered nurse and clinical nurse manager of the Neurobehavioral Medicine Inpatient Unit at St. Patrick Hospital.