My husband and I were married nearly 17 years ago and had our reception at a National Trust property – I know, I know – what’s she babbling about and what does this have to do with the Mental Health of Student Nurses? Well the property in question is a mill – one that took on apprentices as young as 9. My children have all been on school visits there and it’s a place we love. But when we go and have a tour or see the fabulous recreation days that bring history to life, you can hear people audibly gasp when the (progressive at the time) working conditions of these young people are explained.
After passing a medical and an admissions process – apprentices had their board and lodgings provided, worked for 13 hours a day, 6 days a week with three teaching sessions of literacy and numeracy. Their days started at 6am with porridge, they had an hour for lunch where they had to exercise and went home to a hot meal. When work was done, they had chores to do. They slept on hard wooden beds and were away from friends and family. The work was at times dangerous and several apprentices took risks that resulted in injury or death. On their “day off” apprentices walked three miles to church and had the remainder free. People hear these stories and are shocked and horrified and then pat themselves on the back about how far we have come in the last 180 years or so, nip to the cafe, maybe buy a keepsake and head off home thinking how lucky we all are.
Last week – Julie, a 19-year-old who lives 180 miles from her family got up at 5am mon – weds. She travelled for two hours on three different buses to ensure she arrived at her placement ready to change into her uniform and receive handover at 7:15. She ate an apple and a cereal bar on the bus. She then “worked” (she doesn’t get paid but instead lives on a loan she will have to pay back) at her placement each day until 19:45, making the same bus journey home. During these shifts she ate lunch, but it was rushed as she didn’t want to be the only one taking a break. On Thursday she had a lie in and was up at 7:30 – ready for a full day of uni, with a meeting to sign off her hours and a seminar on safeguarding vulnerable adults in which some emotional and thought-provoking content was shown. Although her teaching finished at lunchtime, she stayed in the library until 10pm finishing an assignment that is due in a few days. On Friday and Saturday she gets up at 6:30 and goes to work 45mins away at a local hospital, where she earns minimum wage and again does long shifts – she has the same apple and cereal bar for breakfast and although she manages a break on Friday they are so short staffed that she only manages half a sandwich the next day. On Sunday she does her weekly shopping, it takes ages as she has to account for every penny, she does her washing and then Skypes her family as it is her younger sisters 18th birthday – she can’t afford the time or money to go home to see them. On Sunday evening she spends an hour at the pub, with a friend who has taken a break from the same course because she had a miscarriage and just couldn’t keep going with the demands.
Julie is a student nurse.
She is amazing, courageous, unique and passionate about what she does.
She’s also stressed, broke, overweight and exhausted – all the things that lead to poor physical and mental health.
Why do we look back on history, enraged at the injustice and yet allow it to go on day in day out in front of us? Isn’t it time our sharp intake of breath led to change?
Julie is not alone – across the UK there are thousands of us – nurses and student nurses – and many are at breaking point – our passion and belief in a profession we love drives us on. But for some of us that passion runs out. Some leave for other careers, some continue to the detriment of their health or their relationships, some burn out and spend months or years unwell and unable to continue and devastatingly some complete suicide.
This is not good enough. We need to care for each other and raise our voices as one to say enough is enough – our mental health needs to be a priority – we have no gift shop or cafe at the end of our story – so remember the sharp intake of breath and please support campaigns #fundourfuture and #safestaffingsaveslives
We stand with all student nurses on May 6th in recognising the first Student Nurse Mental Health Awareness Day
From midnight to midnight on 6th May we will be releasing 43 tweets on student nurse mental health, highlighting ways to support your own or others. 43 is the average number of nurses who completed suicide each year (based on statistics from the last 7 years). We need that to stop.
Enough is enough.
Clare Manley (@MannersofMarple on Twitter)