Psychiatric Nursing: Embracing all Human Aspects of Healing—Body, Mind, and Spirit

When patients come to the inpatient psychiatric unit, they are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse that prevents them from caring for themselves and others they love. ThedaCare psychiatric nurses meet each individual with the same intentions: they are non-judgmental; they seek to keep the person safe; and they help him or her take the first steps toward wholeness and better mental health.

Inpatient psychiatric nurses at ThedaCare care for patients and their families at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. Theirs is a specialty that truly involves all human aspects of healing—body, mind, and spirit. During Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a particularly good time to raise awareness of the gifts of these very special nursing professionals and encourage others to investigate this gratifying and in-demand career.

On Choosing Psychiatric Nursing

“There are psychiatric considerations in all of nursing,” said one ThedaCare psychiatric nurse, “and we are the select few who choose to specialize in caring for these patients. As inpatient caregivers, we help patients to get over that big hurdle—the stigma of needing mental health care—and begin to see themselves as worthy and whole again.

“When I decided to pursue a nursing career I initially thought I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse. But during clinicals, I found myself always focusing on my patients’ mental health. I even considered becoming a therapist rather than a nurse and then discovered the perfect balance in psychiatric nursing.”

The Special Joys of Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric nurses are especially keen observers. Their senses of observation, together with a genuine desire to empathize, are vital to discovering the areas of strength within their patients. Together, patients and psychiatric nurses then strive to reach a patient’s recovery, remission, and improved function in society.

“It is rewarding getting to know (my patients) and witness their transition from being acutely ill when they are admitted to their transformation toward better health when they are discharged. I enjoy my co- workers and am proud of the care we provide,” said another ThedaCare psychiatric nurse.

Her co-worker added, “Educating patients and their families about mental health and substance abuse issues is an important part of every person’s treatment. I am humbled by the courage our patients demonstrate when facing challenges both internal and external during their treatment. We have a strong team, and I know that the people I work with feel as passionately as I do about helping our patients.”  

When Days are Difficult

Many psychiatric patients enter treatment in an extremely agitated state, so nurses must be especially aware of their personal safety while on the job. They often hear very distressing and disturbing stories about their patients’ life experiences and must learn how not to internalize these pressures beyond the work day. “I try to focus on the fact that I cannot change what has happened in their past, but that I can make a difference for their future,” said one ThedaCare psychiatric nurse.

A nationwide shortage of mental health professionals, recovery programs and facilities, and support for people with mental health problems puts a strain on patients, families, and care providers in the local area, too. “The most challenging aspect of my job is seeing patients relapse or unable to maintain mental wellness due to a shortage of resources in our community,” said another ThedaCare nurse. “The Fox Valley and Oshkosh have many excellent resources for mental health and substance abuse treatment, but there is still an emergent need for more.  

“These problems are not everyone else’s problems,” she continued. “They are yours and mine. Today, someone else may need mental health and substance abuse help, and tomorrow it could be you or your loved one. I am proud to be a part of our team and there is no other place I would rather work.”