When the Future of Mental Health Nursing Conference asked people to submit a quote that sums up Mental Health Nursing, I sent my favourite quote: “When you can’t look on the bright side, we’ll sit with you in the dark”. I was extremely lucky to win the competition to attend the conference in Edinburgh. The quote and my name was also printed on all the bags, which was fantastic to see. 

“When you can’t look on the bright side, we’ll sit with you in the dark”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Greeting us at the event was a therapy dog called Phoebe. She brought a smile to everyone’s face (especially to mine, as I absolutely love dogs). This was such a lovely way to begin the conference. The main hall had an incredible atmosphere.  In one corner was Lynn (@AlongBorderline) who raises awareness of Borderline Personality Disorder through dance and theatre. In another was Angie Strachan (@AngieStrachan75), who attends Spoken Word events to raise awareness for mental health problems.

“To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world”

Ben Thomas opened the event, telling the story of how he wanted to create a conference just for students after witnessing the number of mental health nurses drop when he worked at the Department of Health. This is how the Future of Mental Health Nursing Conference was formed! Although Ben is involved in planning each event, the majority of the conference is organised by groups of students – just like us. This made the event even more special.

The Chief Nursing Officer for Scotland, Fiona McQueen (@FionaCMcQueen) spoke first. She shared Scotland’s plans for funding, their hope to increase mental health nurses and how they are ensuring safe staffing. It was incredibly interesting to hear their plans. When Fiona said: “To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world”, her words really reminded me of the impact I could have throughout my career. 

“What matters to you?”

This was followed by Tommy Whitelaw (@TommyNtour), who moved me (and most of the room) to tears. Tommy was a carer to his late mother, Joan, who sadly passed away after a battle with dementia. He told us how the encouragement he received from one nurse when he was struggling had helped him to carry on. He explained that she had no idea of the impact she had made that day, as she was simply being “a great nurse”. He now campaigns to spread awareness of dementia and emphasise the importance of asking: “What matters to you?” instead of: “What’s the matter with you?” ‘What Matters To You Day’ is now an annual event. It’s a fantastic idea and is absolutely worth taking a look at online to see if you can help to spread the message. Tommy told us he believed the room to be filled with the “greatest profession ever created” and finished by getting the room up for some karaoke. We ended by clapping and singing together which was a brilliant moment. 

Between speakers, there were workshops available to attend. Jennifer Young delivered the a trauma workshop, then James King and Lin Anderson led another on crime and prison education. In the afternoon, there was a mindfulness workshop led by James Kennedy. Followed by a writing talk by Elliot Lawrie. There was even a room to join in with some yoga!

Another incredibly inspiring speaker to was a man with first hand experience of addiction and mental health problems. David McCollom spoke in depth and gave us a real and raw depiction of his journey to recovery. He proudly shared with us the success of his business and his achievements. It was amazing to hear his story.

Playlist for Life

Next, Andy Lowndes, the music detective (@AndyDetective), introduced us to Playlist for Life and explained the impact that music can have on the brain. He told us how he and Sally Magnusson (@SallyMag1) formed Playlist For Life (@PlaylistForLife) after Sally found music helped when she was caring for her mother. Andy prompted everyone to think about what song they would include in their own playlist and why. He shared clips of people with dementia who displayed a marked and touching improvement when listening to their playlist.

Closing the event was comedian, Luisa Omielan (@LuisaOmielan). She gave a frank, yet funny talk about the issues faced within mental health care. She spoke about important topics and had us all clapping at her honesty. All the while, somehow managing to make us laugh!

“We have the ability to change so many people’s lives and providing this care can also really change ours for the better too”

The whole event was utterly inspiring and I left feeling prouder than ever before to have chosen this career. It reminded me that Mental Health Nursing is so much more than a career. We have the ability to change so many people’s lives and providing this care can also really change ours for the better too. I’m in such a privileged position to share incredible moments with people throughout their journey. The Future of MHN Conference has given me the boost I needed to finish my dissertation, prepare for my final placement and look forward to being qualified!

What song would you include in your playlist for life? Let us know in the comments below or via @mhresearchleeds

Dakota Scollen is a third year mental health nursing student at the University of Leeds. You can follow her @DakotaScollen

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