Notre Dame launches new programs in Mental Health Nursing

09 October 2020

Saturday 10 October is World Mental Health Day, an international campaign to raise awareness about mental health and encourage those affected by a mental health disorder to seek help.

With 1 in 5 Australians affected by mental illness annually, this year Mental Health Australia is calling for the whole population to make a promise: “Look after your mental health”. For many people with mental health concerns that means getting help from professionally trained healthcare workers – and that’s where Mental Health Nurses and Notre Dame’s new postgraduate programs in Mental Health Nursing can play a role.

This year the University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Nursing, Sydney, launched a new Graduate Certificate in Mental Health Nursing and Graduate Diploma in Mental Health Nursing – both commencing in Semester 1, 2021. The Graduate Certificate is the first stepping stone towards specialising in Mental Health Nursing, and from there the Graduate Diploma allows Registered Nurses to apply to become credentialed Mental Health Nurses.

The new programs come at a time when mental health is at the forefront because of the significant negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on so many people’s mental wellbeing. “It is likely there will be more people experiencing extremes of stress, anxiety, hardship and trauma during this pandemic. Mental health nurses need to be upskilled to support these increased presentations and should also be actively involved in health promotion activities and self-care activities for themselves – such as exercise, healthy diets, meditation and mindfulness,” says Associate Professor Joanna Patching, who has led the development of Notre Dame’s mental health programs.

“As rural communities are especially impacted by the shortage of healthcare workers and in need of additional support, nurses living in rural regions and anywhere in Australia will be able to complete the new qualifications online,” adds Joanna.

Looking forward to adding to her skillset is Notre Dame alumna and mental health nurse, Trina Beldan, who plans to enrol in the programs in 2021.

Trina made the transition from music teacher to Registered Nurse, completing her Bachelor of Nursing at Notre Dame in 2018. Since then she has spent time working in various mental health wards, including the Forensic Unit in a long-term rehabilitation ward, with individuals who have been found not guilty of crimes due to mental health issues.

“What I like about Mental Health Nursing is that every day is different,” says Trina, who is currently a Nursing Unit Manager at Concord Centre for Mental Health. “Mental Health Nursing is about whole person care; it’s very holistic and not just about treating a medical issue. It requires interpersonal skills and you have to be able to safely de-escalate people who might be scared or anxious.”

Working in the mental health space also requires empathy. “It’s about trying to understand more about the story and trauma of a person,” says Trina. “I read someone’s file and think, ‘Well if half of this happened to me, I might be in the same situation’. It helps to understand where people are coming from.”

Having a good therapeutic relationship with an individual can change everything, Trina explains. “Developing a good relationship with a patient develops trust so they will be more likely to trust in the care we provide them, and this ultimately leads to better outcomes for the person.”

Associate Professor Joanna Patching agrees. “Mental Health Nursing as a speciality focuses on the 'therapeutic use of self', engaging with people experiencing mental health concerns and working collaboratively with them to support their recovery. Excellent communication skills are vital in developing a therapeutic relationship with clients,” she says.

Our new postgraduate programs help develop the skills nurses need to work within a mental health context. However, mental health is really relevant in all aspects of nursing so these courses aren’t just for Mental Health Nurses; they are for all nurses, in any area of nursing, who want to truly provide holistic care.

For Trina, postgraduate education also offers career development. “I’m interested in the Graduate Certificate because I want to upskill. I previously worked as a music teacher and I’d love to go into nursing education. I really enjoy working with student nurses,” she says.

Part of the aim of World Mental Health Day is raising awareness about mental health issues and campaigning for improved access to mental health services. Training more specialist health care workers is a positive step towards improved access, but there’s more to be done.

“I do believe there’s a shortage of mental healthcare workers, and in particular community nurses – those nurses who do at-home visits to see how individuals, who have been discharged from hospital and living in the community, are managing,” says Trina.

Community nursing is a hugely important part of mental healthcare to ensure people leaving hospital or rehabilitation are supported to remain healthy rather than be readmitted into care.

“Prevention and promotion is vital,” adds Joanna. “We need to actively encourage openness about mental health, campaigns about positive lifestyle changes that are known to improve mental health, such as exercise, and free access to apps that support people’s engagement in these activities. Some of this has occurred during the pandemic and it would be great if it continued. Workplaces also have a role to play in focusing on the mental health of their workers – not only because of the pandemic but out of respect for their employees.”

“Caring for your mental wellbeing can look different for everyone,” says Trina. “But I think it’s important to take time for yourself, and not be ashamed to seek help. If you need to see a counsellor or psychologist, do it. We need to drop the stigma.”

As part of Mental Health Month this October, both Joanna and Trina are taking part in the Black Dog Institute’s One Foot Forward campaign to help raise money for vital mental health research. Click here to donate to Trina, or to donate to Joanna, click here.


Media Contact
Nancy Merlo : +61 2 8204 4044 | nancy.merlo@nd.edu.au