After winning the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Award at the Cardiff and Vale UHB Staff Recognition Awards, Adele Watkins, a Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, shares her story and the work she’s done to better help both her patients and colleagues with mental health problems.
Adele said: “The Children’s Hospital signed the pledge in October last year on our very first Mental Health Awareness Day. Our pledge was part of the Time to Change Wales Young People’s Programme and we were the first health organisation to sign one.
“While our work focuses mainly on children and young people as our patients, we also work to raise awareness and understand of mental health problems among staff. It wouldn’t be feasible to address one without the other, and because around one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives, it’s so important to reduce mental health discrimination and stigma across the board.
“After we signed the pledge, I was invited to become part of the Time to Change Wales Network and have received training in employee wellbeing where we looked at the cost to the NHS from staff absences due to mental health problems.
“We’ve also had a few Time to Change Champions come into the hospital to speak. These were young people working with Time to Change who have all been through mental health services during their teens. It was a privilege to hear them share their experiences, they were so moving and really highlighted for me the need for what we’ve signed up to do.
“Since starting in this role, I’ve established a training programme for my colleagues. I call it a Mental Health Toolbox because it gives staff the tools and skills they need to have meaningful conversations about mental health with their patients and each other as well as where they can signpost people for further help.
“I’m not a trained counsellor but I’ll sit and listen to anyone who needs me to. Often, people just need to offload. I’m also able to signpost people to places like the Employee Wellbeing Service for further help.
“We had a Tea and Talk day recently for staff in the children’s hospital where we encouraged colleagues to take a break from their workstation and come for a cup of tea, a piece of cake, and a chat about mental health or how they’re getting on. At the start, no one turned up and I was a bit worried that I was going to be quiet but as word spread, more and more people starting coming.
“When they have the capacity to take a short break, it’s so important for mental wellbeing that people do. It was a really successful day and we hope to hold one again soon. It would be great to see something similar rolled out across the health board.
“On the wards, we always take part in various awareness campaigns and events such as Children’s Mental Health Week, Time to Talk Day, and Eating Disorders Awareness Week. We have a closed Facebook group for staff that I regularly use to share upcoming events so everyone always knows what’s going on.
“Another thing that we’ll be starting soon is ‘Fine-Free Friday’; every Friday we’ll encourage everyone on the wards, staff and patients, to not just say ‘fine’ when they’re asked how they are. By being honest about how they’re doing and not just shutting the conversation down, we hope that more people will have more of these conversations more often, which will help to break down the barriers that stop people from talking about their mental health.
“My aspiration is to develop nurses who have a passion for mental health and get at least one in every ward in the Children’s Hospital. In the future, it would be fantastic if we could develop a dedicated suite for our patients with mental health problems as we can see that the demand for this service is substantial and increasing.
“Even though I know that there’s so much work to be done on this subject, it was nice to be recognised for what I’ve already achieved at both the Staff Recognition Awards and by being named Mental Health and Learning Disability Nurse of the Year in Wales by the Royal College of Nursing.
“Recently, we’ve presented our work to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Conference and have been invited to deliver a speech on improving services between health and mental health in the Children’s Hospital for Wales at the Royal College of Nursing Congress in May. I think this just goes to show the need that’s being felt across the country at the moment for mental health care and it’s very humbling to be involved in this process.
“I’m thrilled that the Health Board is signing and refreshing their Time to Change pledge. It’s crucial that staff are made more aware of mental health problems and are given the right support to talk about this subject with their colleagues, especially if they themselves are the ones experiencing the problems. It’s clear that as an organisation we have a duty of care to not only our patients but to each other as colleagues as well.”