A Nurse of Many Hats

By: Cindy Dowers, BSN, RN, Executive Director of Nursing Services, Hamilton Center, Inc.

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse – and based on the courageous work of nurses during COVID-19, it couldn’t come at a more appropriate time.

This week, we celebrate National Nurses Week, which begins each year on May 6 and ends on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Nightingale, who was born on May 12, 1820, 200 years ago, was a British nurse, statistician, and social reformer who is credited as the foundational philosopher of modern nursing.

Today, thanks to Nightingale’s efforts, there are a variety of nursing specialties, and one of those is the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse (PMHN), or psych nurse.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is becoming increasingly relevant to our social discussions about wellness and quality of life. In America, most of the nation has been restricted to social distancing and self-quarantine. Because of this, many individuals –  if not all – are experiencing newfound struggles related to mental health with little to no understanding of why or how to cope. Psych nurses are a uniquely qualified for these types of situations, and for those who struggle with mental illness, they are truly heroes.

A psych nurse wears many hats. They are trained mental health care professionals that develop strong therapeutic relationships with people experiencing mental illnesses, crisis, and/or substance use disorders. They are integrated health care specialists that work with a variety of other professions, including peer support specialists, counselors and therapists, and psychiatrists and psychologists. They are direct caregivers, who work to care for individuals and families while educating them about the mind-body connection and the strong correlation of mental and physical health. And, perhaps most critically, they are educators and advocates, actively work to end the stigma associated with mental health by encouraging self-care and promoting treatment when necessary.

Another nursing specialty of the mental health field is Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). PMHNPs help fill the gaps in care caused by a critical shortage of trained professionals. As a master’s level clinician, they work closely with patients to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals, and their families, with psychiatric disorders. They play a vital role in the treatment of mental illness through their full scope of therapeutic skills, which includes assisting patients to establish preventative and maintenance behaviors, prescribing medications, and administrating psychotherapy.

Nurses of all types play a vital role in providing health services. They are the backbone of our health care system, so much so, that many are the only point of care in their communities. They devote their lives to caring for individuals from before birth to the end of life. They do this, not on the basis of socioeconomic background, ethnicity, or color, but on basis of need and the love of serving others. In fact, right now, nurses all across the world are serving others in dire and frankly dangerous circumstances, stepping up to the challenge and answering our cries for help. 2020 is indeed the year of the nurse, and we thank every last one of them for all they do.

Hamilton Center, Inc. is a regional behavioral health system in Central and West Central Indiana. Services are provided to children, adolescents and adults, with specialized programs for expectant mothers, infants, and people with drug and alcohol problems. Counseling services are provided for people who may be struggling with stress, life changes, or relationship issues as well as more serious problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, and serious mental illnesses. For more information about services, call 1-800-742-0787, or visit www.hamiltoncenter.org.

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