Mental Health

Time to Sing – how using singing and social interaction can challenge stigma and promote wellbeing in socially excluded groups.

In early February, student nurses from the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery attended a Time to Talk Day run by the mental health charity Time to Change. This inspired them to think about different ways to promote wellbeing and challenge stigma, and it resulted in the creation of ‘Time to Sing’.

I decided to join with friends from the Mind & Soul Choir and host a ‘Time to Sing’ celebratory workshop. This brought together 60 members of the Mind & Soul Choir, along with the Micro Rainbow International Choir and Student Nurses, for a meal and music workshop. The aim of the day was to have fun, meet new people, challenge the stigma associated with different socially excluded groups, and to sing. It also provided me with the challenge of cooking lunch for 60 people.

The Mind & Soul choir is based at the Maudsley Hospital and anyone can join – there is a mix of service users, staff, carers and friends who regularly sing together. One of the participants on the day wrote, “There is no stigma in a choir – the only label we wear is soprano or bass”, and, while the tenors and altos might feel offended, this was a sentiment echoed by many participants who left comments on the feedback posters provided:

“It’s great to sing with people from so many different backgrounds. The different songs from different eras and cultures was a great mix. Thanks to all for organising.”

 “WOW – fellowship, friendship, singing, fun.”

Members of the Micro Rainbow International (MRI) Choir also joined the event. MRI addresses the specific situation of poverty of LGBTI people worldwide by devising tools and actions that can enable them to step out of deprivation. In the UK, MRI’s focus is on the situation of poverty of LGBTI refugees.

They address the isolation and sense of helplessness that many LGBTI refugees experience by building new friendships and creating closer communities.

 “Lovely to sing with a mixed group . . . meet new people. Great for the soul. Thank you.”

”Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow! – Kate Bush and Tom Jones. I’m brim full of GRATITUDE to all the folk who made “Sing for Joy” such an uplifting, joyful day.”

I felt that the day’s aim of having fun was met. The day gave people a chance to eat together, sing and dance, and this impacted on people’s moods and feelings of isolation.  I am very grateful to the wonderful musical director and animateur, Lea Cornthwaite, who facilitated the event.  Here are some comments from those who were there:

“I’m so glad I came. It’s really cheered me up now.”

“A lovely day – takes my mind off problems. Fun! Fun! Fun!”

 “Lovely to be able to socialise with new people at the breaks, since I live alone and could be lonely.”

“First time I’ve sung in a choir for 30 years. I’ve had so much fun. Everyone is so friendly. I instantly felt at home. Thank you for an awesome day.”

 “It was great. Everyone was so welcoming, with lots of interesting stories to tell. The singing was incredible. I was a bit unsure to start with but my worries soon vanished, it was just so easy to join in the fun. No matter your ‘baggage’ the music really brought us together to create something beautiful”

Aura, Bsc Mental Health Nursing

 “I really love the instant unity from singing in a choir, I find socialising in large groups difficult but the choir was a great way for me to feel cohesion with a group without feeling the pressure to interact. It’s a great way to co-exist and share an experience!”

Eve, PG Dip Mental Health Nursing

 One participant went further to specify that for them, singing underpinned their motivation for everything else:                               

“Singing should be at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

In their 2008 report Stigma Shout, Time for Change state that stigma and discrimination:

  • Prevent people seeking help
  • Delay treatment
  • Impair recovery
  • Isolate people
  • Exclude people from day to day activities
  • Stop people getting jobs

It might seem like an enormous list to tackle, and whilst groups like Time to Change, Rethink and Mind are doing a fantastic job in mainstream and social media, as well as through lobbying and research, we can all contribute through the power of contact.  Social contact theory is seen as one of the core requirements to change stigma (Like Minds Like Mine 2005). The type of contact matters, as some professionals that have lots of contact with marginalised groups may continue to hold discriminatory attitudes. Contact can be the most effective strategy, if the contact has the following conditions:

  • Equal status
  • The opportunity for individuals to get to know each other
  • Information which challenges negative stereotypes
  • Active co-operation
  • Pursuit of a mutual goal

The workshop proved a simple and enjoyable example of equal and active contact to challenge stigma and promote wellbeing.

On a personal note, it was a privilege to be a small part of such a warm and welcoming group and event. In the first warm-up song, I was moved to tears by the joy of the beautiful sound we were making together within moments of meeting each other. Many thanks to all involved.

Ian Noonan

Department of Mental Health Nursing

Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery

King’s College London

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

For more information on PGDip Mental Health Nursing, click here.


My journey at King’s and a career in mental health nursing

I grew up in a country where there is a lot of myth and stigma surrounding mental illness. I quickly became interested in understanding the facts, the ways to deliver care and how to communicate with people with mental health conditions. As nursing was frowned upon when I initially suggested training as a nurse at age 16, I actually ended up studying accountancy (HND) after secondary school.

But luckily, in 2004, I had the opportunity to come to the UK. Unfortunately, I was unable to study mental health nursing at university after my Access to Nursing course, because of a restriction on foreign students.  I remained focused on my desire to become a nurse by studying for NVQ level 3 and 4 in Health and Social Care, Beauty Therapy, BSc Hon. Health and Social Care and Masters in Psychology and worked with the mental health Charity (MIND) for 7 years.

In 2014, I became eligible for the Nursing program because my immigration status changed!

I was very attracted to the course at King’s because of its reputation.  I was ecstatic when I got offered a place and have thoroughly enjoyed studying here. I am particularly impressed with King’s high standard of education, which encourages a high level of interaction between staff and students, and offers a good balance between clinical placements and classroom learning.  I feel that the high reputation of King’s students in clinical settings is second to none.

Six months for the completion of my course, I was offered a position as a staff nurse at a Medium Secure unit in the Midlands, and there have been other offers since then.  I am a bit overwhelmed by the vast opportunities training as a nurse at King’s has offered me.  My goal is to get involved in strategic mental health care management in the near future.

Overall, I am very proud that I have been able to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a nurse and what better way of seeing this dream come true than through the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at King’s College London.

Aluya, PGDip Mental Health Nursing

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

For more information on PGDip Mental Health Nursing, click here.



No regrets – leaving Northern Ireland to study in London

I moved to London from Northern Ireland in September 2013 to study mental health nursing at King’s and I haven’t looked back since making that decision.

Naturally, I miss Ireland and my family, but due to cheap flights, we can usually visit every other month (and we talk/text almost every day). As everyone in first year in your halls of residence has left home, your flat mates become your second family.

In first year I lived in Julian Markham House (JMH), a King’s residence and I would really recommend it. I lived with medics and humanity students, and it was a nice change to come home and be able to take a break from talking about nursing all day. JMH is located in the Elephant and Castle district, and is a maximum 20 minute walk from all of the King’s campuses. Due to this, in both second and third year I have chosen to remain in the same area, renting privately owned flats. Finding these flats was fairly straight forward, and was a very quick process which we began in June and was completed within a week. This allows you to leave it until the last minute to decide where to live and who to live with, which in other universities you often need to have arranged by January.

I do think that studying in London has been a brilliant decision for me, not only for the wide range of placements that are available to me as a mental health nursing student, but also on what is available to me in my spare time. I have been able to travel on the Eurostar to Paris, fly to the Netherlands and I’ve also visited a lot of my school friends at other universities in the UK, all quite cheaply because of the plentiful London transport links and the great student/youth travel fares. Being a student in London has many benefits: cheaper cinema tickets, going to concerts and local festivals, many restaurants give student discount, as do a lot of the shops.

Personally, I love the change from Northern Ireland to the fast paced streets of London. However, if you are concerned that it may be a bit too hectic, don’t worry, there are many areas in London which can prove to be a little escape from Central London. Some of the lovely places which I like to visit and can really recommend are Greenwich, Windsor and Hampstead Heath, but there are many more.

I do not regret my decision to study in London, and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to others.

Sarah, 2nd Year BSc Mental Health Nursing

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.


Mental Health Nursing Placements

Before I started this degree people would frequently ask what I wanted to specialise in as I embarked on my career in mental healthcare. ‘Mental Health nursing’ was always my answer, smiling smugly as I answered thinking I was being as specific and precise as I ever would be able to. Boy, was I wrong.

My first day on a rehabilitation ward was a shock for me. I expected rehab to be a place of addictions, but here I was on a ward of people suffering from schizophrenia! ‘Rehab exists for people with schizophrenia?’ will go down in history as one of the silliest questions I have ever asked. It was here that I realised how my perception of mental health was incorrect. There were people who could potentially live in the community for the rest of their lives, stable and living with their illness! It was a miracle, I left the ward feeling hopeful. I didn’t know a service or a world like this existed.

I then had the opportunity to be with a deaf adult community mental health team. It was only one of the few scattered around the country, a service that is truly valuable. I had never faced language barriers before. I was confused and felt powerless at my inability to communicate with staff members, students and patients. Frankly, I felt left out. One day I approached my mentor and a deaf member of staff about my feelings. The deaf member of staff said that is how he felt in the outside world, outside of these walls that protect him – everyday. I was too busy caught up in my own emotions to realise that this is the reality many people have to live every single day and I was only living it for five weeks. It was here that I learnt the importance of inclusion and how isolation truly feels.

Next, I was placed with the elderly. Caring for mothers, fathers and grandparents who had done their fair share for the world. Sitting with them and listening to their stories, made me wonder what story I would tell when I was as old and wise as them. For the first time in my life, I was faced with a patient suffering from Dementia. Here was the ‘horrid’ disease I had heard about for so long, but never witnessed. It tore me to pieces, more than I could have ever imagined and this was where I was able to put to practice my skills of compassion to the test. I would spend hours caring for people who would say ‘who are you’ at the end of the day. However, that never stopped me. I won’t deny that it hurt me, but I knew that they needed me and that their need for me to care for them was much more important that my need for them to remember what I did for them.

Thrown into the dynamic environment of a home treatment team I found my perfect setting. I loved every moment of assessing patients, providing care for patients in a crisis and preventing individuals from admission into hospital. It was here that I felt my skills were most applicable. I have always loved being able to think on my feet, I have always been a person who deals with unexpected situations well and solves them quickly. This was the environment I felt was most suited to me and I loved every single minute. I didn’t want to leave. My heart melted, as I realised I was slowly becoming the nurse I knew I could be and had always wanted to be. The one I had always aimed to be.

So I have six more placements to do and I can’t tell you how excited I am. If you asked me what area I wanted to specialise in right now, I couldn’t tell you, but come back to me in a year and a half and I might just know.

Deborah, 2nd Year BSc Mental Health Nursing

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

To read Deborah’s “Five things I wish I’d known before starting my degree”, click here.

Five things I wish I’d known before starting my degree

….(and some tips for you)

1. Make time for the academic side
I write this as I sit over a pile literature I need to start devouring for two different essays. You need to learn about so many different aspects of healthcare, policy and science. The degree requires you to know so much and to be able to apply your knowledge well. Your understanding will constantly be tested by your lecturers, placement mentors, peers and even yourself.

2. Placement is much more hands on that I ever thought
You are expected to get involved in much more than just observing. The line between a qualified nurse and a student nurse is not as thick as you probably imagined. However, at the same time, remember the importance of observation and never do anything unless you have been shown how to do it.

3. You need to be able to manage your time well!
Like really. You’ll be juggling placements, university, working and trying to maintain a social life. It’s hard but good time management is key! I am able to work, go to placement, do my essays, prepare for exams and still make time for my friends. It’s all about planning in advance and being realistic about what you can and can’t do and the time space that you can do it in.

4. Living in London is quite expensive
It’s easy to underestimate the costs of living in London – but don’t make that mistake. It’s expensive but oh so worth it! You learn to shop at the cheapest places, make the most out of what you have, walk as much as possible and get an 18+ student oyster card to get 30% off! Manage your money well and, if all fails, your overdraft may just become your best friend.

5. Becoming a nurse will be the best thing you’ll ever do!
I wish somebody had warned me how much I would love this – but I’m glad I got to experience this myself. It has been a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t too sure how much I would love being a student nurse but it is the best thing I have ever done in my life. Being able to care and look after people and change lives daily is so much more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

Deborah, 2nd Year BSc Mental Health Nursing

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.


My desk with all my current academic books!

Rewards of Being A Nurse

Being a mental health nurse is both a challenging and rewarding role. The challenges are not only in terms of the emotional impact that caring for patients can have, but also the financial and political constraints that we often have to operate under while working in the NHS.

Despite numerous awareness and anti-stigma campaigns, the stigma of mental illness continues to permeate throughout society, albeit in many cases unintentionally. Thus, when an individual confides in you and ‘lets you in’ to their life, their suffering, their illness, it is a great privilege that should be treated with care and respect.

From admission to discharge, you support and follow the patient in their recovery journey while being able to contribute towards a positive outcome – which is a great feeling. Equally, liaising with family members is also a privilege, particularly when providing support and reassurance to them during a very difficult time.

Overall, being a mental health nurse offers great opportunities to support and treat individuals suffering from often complex mental health problems. It gives you a unique insight into other people’s lives, struggles and human experiences.

In addition, being a mental health nurse offers you wide and varied career opportunities. Therefore, if you are an ambitious, compassionate and caring individual, a career in mental health nursing could be for you.

Lewis, 1st Year PGDip Mental Health Nursing

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

For more information on PGDip Mental Health Nursing, click here.

It’s amazing where your nursing degree can take you

Emma Gilbert graduated from King’s College with a PG Dip in Mental Health Nursing in 2012 and an MSc in Mental Health Nursing in 2015. Emma tells us what she’s been up to since she graduated.

My first degree was a BA in Social Anthropology, and I can trace back my interest in mental health and social behaviour from then. My part time job during my studies was helping to look after a woman with schizophrenia, who lived at home with support from carers.

After graduating, I pursued a career within television, film and radio. I found myself particularly drawn to working on factual documentaries that had a social component. I worked as a researcher in production and then as an assistant producer in development – writing treatment ideas and pitches, an aspect of work I still love. I then moved on to radio, working for Radio 4 on a variety of news programmes and freelancing as a producer for LBC radio.

So I’d already had quite a varied career when, shortly before my 27th birthday, I decided to train as a mental health nurse. My then colleagues were very surprised by my career change, but I knew that I wanted to develop a pragmatic and practical set of skills that I’d be able to shape and make my own.

I have never regretted the decision to become a nurse, and have found that my studies and training at King’s have opened up such a wide range of opportunities for me. As an anthropologist by discipline, transcultural psychiatry has always been a special interest of mine so as soon as I could find funded work I headed overseas to gain some more experience. I spent eight weeks in St Vincent’s working in medical clinics, before heading to Malawi to manage a team of volunteers working on various health projects, including a life skills course running in the local prison.

Following my time in Malawi, I knew I wanted to pursue more global work, so I began a Diploma in Tropical Nursing at Liverpool University. I then went on to study for a Masters in Nursing at King’s, which I passed with Merit.

My Master’s degree helped me to secure a position at the Tropical Health Education Trust, working in service development for the children’s ward here at Butabika, the only dedicated psychiatric hospital in Kampala. I also help to facilitate the Advanced Diploma in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry here, which is taught to health workers all over the country and is the first course of its kind in the region.

More recently, I have set up a project, backed by the LINK I work for, to address one of the major crises on the ward – abandonment and resettlement of children with mental illness. You can find out further information about the project on the Crowdfunder website. I’ve also been involved in a piece about child mental health for the BBC’s World Service HealthCheck programme, and I am starting to make ‘voices from the field’ podcasts for the Mental Health Innovation Network. I am working alongside Medical Aid Films to produce an educational film about Epilepsy, still considered a mental illness in Uganda.

Since graduating from King’s I’ve had the opportunity to work in such a wide variety of environments, each bringing new challenges and experiences. The best aspect to my work is that the potential for continued learning and development, both personally and professionally is boundless. I believe nursing is a skill that is universally understood, and in this way, if you want to, you are able to create opportunities for yourself that go above and beyond a conventional career path. Oh, and of course that the main component is actually spending time with people and hearing their stories. Nothing really gets better than that.

Emma is an alumna of King’s College London

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.

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Laura Darrall, gives us a heartfelt insight into her amazing social media campaign

Laura Darral

The hardest thing about mental illness is pretending that you’re ok. It’s exhausting putting on a smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes when all your body and mind is screaming for you to do is lie down, cry and not get up.

You can’t pull yourself together because at that moment in time you don’t have the strength or cognitive ability to do so. You try to be ok and to seem fine because you don’t want anyone to worry, you don’t want to be a burden to your family and friends.

And the best thing you can do is to talk about it, which is why I am writing this and why I created #itaffectsme. I am asking you all to take a selfie with a post-it note on your head, that says #itaffectsme, upload it to social media, donate to Mind and then share, share, share!

#itaffectsme is simply the statement that at some point in all our lives we have seen or known mental illness in ourselves or others and have been affected or moved by it.

And the selfie is to stop people having the need to hide, or be embarrassed by it, to show a united front and to express the universality of these illnesses. Mental illness has no prejudices about who it affects, so we should have no prejudices about it.

The idea for #itaffectsme first came to me after I came out the other side of a mental breakdown, six months of panic attacks, anxiety, OCD and depression. I was sat on the edge of my bed and for the first time in months I felt clarity of thought and a fire in my belly and I knew that I had to use it to make a change, to make people unafraid to speak out about mental health and to put an end to stigma surrounding it. But I had no idea how, so I said a prayer, looked over at my desk, spotted the post-its and then it was like a light bulb switched on in my brain, a real Eureka moment, and it has snowballed from there.

I am so overwhelmed and thrilled with the response. If I can get just one person who is suffering to speak out and ask for help then it is worth every single tear I ever shed last year.

What is so hard about mental illness is that, unlike when you have broken your leg and you can clearly see all the “broken” bits, when your brain is broken it is so difficult to distinguish between what is you, your personality and what is the illness. This is one of the many reasons mental health is such a taboo subject and people feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want to be thought of as crazy.

The health care workers who helped me most were non-judgemental and not patronising in any way shape or form. They listened and understood.

Mental illness is so so, so, so common, all of us will experience it at some point in our lives whether for ourselves or through a loved one. Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson have all suffered and spoken out about it, they are the tip of the iceberg. What we need to do is get educated and we need to talk because that is where true happiness and hope comes from: talking, communication and connection.

We need to get mental health education on the curriculum to give our children a future where they too are unafraid to speak out and ask for help. 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness: that is 25% of the world’s population. It is staggering and we need to arm our children with knowledge, with compassion and build a world for them where the word “stigma” is extinct.

Life is too short, too precious not to talk, not to tell the truth. So please, join everyone who has already done it and show your support:

@itaffectsme @MindCharity

Selfie+post-it+donation+share = #itaffectsme

Text SUPPORT to 70660 to donate £3 to Mind

If you are interested in working in Mental Health Nursing, click here.

Spotlight on an academic

60 second interview….Ian Noonan

Why did you choose a career in nursing?

At school I had wanted to be either a social worker or a vicar, and with hindsight, there are aspects of working as a mental health nurse that include parts of both of those roles. After my first degree, I was working as a freelance musician and training as a music therapist when I first started to work with people who were experiencing mental illness on a music therapy placement. I was really envious of the mental health nurses who were able to respond flexibly and individually to their clients’ needs using a range of different theoretical approaches (social; psychological; medical; interpersonal), using interventions that met the clients’ needs rather than operating within one theoretical approach (as I perceived music therapy to be at the time). I loved the pragmatism, eclecticism, inventiveness and creativity of the nurses’ work with people who were having very distressing experiences. It seemed real: warm, accepting, genuine and empathic. So, I decided to retrain and came back to King’s College London to study mental health nursing.

What do you enjoy most about working as an Mental Health Nurse?

Sackett (2006) describes evidence based medicine as the interaction between the best available evidence, the client’s values, and the clinician’s experience. Mental illness is experienced differently by each one of us so it is sometimes difficult to generalise from the evidence which needs to try and define discretely phenomenon such as schizophrenia or depression, about which there remains debate. This means that as mental health nurses we have to consciously engage with the client’s values and develop our personal and experiential knowledge in order to be able to provide the best possible care for people with whom we are working. I love the demands of being able to access and critique the best available evidence and think how it might be adapted or sometimes even rejected in order to work within a framework that is acceptable and meaningful to the client or carer. This in turn has impacted on how my values and experience have developed. I learn from the people with whom I work.

What do you like most about teaching?

There are moments in teaching when students apply the learning to their own practice in a way that is unique and meaningful to them. It is a sort of eureka moment when someone in a lecture or seminar starts to use the ideas and information being presented and apply it to their practice. I like to think of teaching as creating a gap. A sort of potential or tension between the students’ existing knowledge and experience and something new which if exciting and relevant enough will pull them forward, closing the gap and creating the starting point for the next step. In their Tidal model of mental health practice, Barker and Buchanan-Barker (2004) describe one of the core commitments in mental health care as “crafting the step beyond” – working with the person as they are now, to imagine and envisage the next step and move forward together. I think the best sort of teaching does the same thing.

What motivates you to do your research?

In short – it is when a question needs to be answered. I am currently involved in two research projects and supervising two more MSc students and five BSc students for their dissertations. As a supervisor, I see it as my role to help shape a student’s interest and enthusiasm for a topic into an answerable question. If we get the question right, the rest is easy! Research, teaching and practice all inform each other and for me the motivation comes from their synergistic influence on each other.

What is the aim of your research and what do you hope to discover?

I am running the Self-harm Cessation and Recovery Study (SCARS) and am on the advisory panel for the Qualitative Understanding of the Experience of Suicidal Thoughts (QUEST) both of which are trying to help us understand better the experiences of people who self-harm or who have suicidal thoughts. The first study is attempting to co-construct a model of self-harm cessation with adults who used to self-harm and have managed to stop or choose to no longer self-harm. The hope is that understanding the process of stopping and maintaining a changed behaviour will help us to support people who need help to stop. The second study has a more public health focus and is funded by The Samaritans and Network Rail. We are particularly interested in why people choose or think about particular places as a location or method of attempted suicide and what we might be able to do to reduce this. One of my masters students is also working on this project.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am a musician and play clarinet and sax in a number of orchestras, bands, and for music theatre and opera. I love living and working in central London and make the most of the opportunity to see and take part in a wide range of arts events and performances. With the Nightingale Choir; Culture & Care Programme; Nursing and the Arts and Arts & Humanities in Midwifery Practice modules, this passion often spills over into the day job!

Why should students choose to study nursing at King’s?

We have excellent relationships with a wide range of partner trusts, private and non-statutory mental health providers and so are able to offer students the combination of exciting, stimulating and challenging clinical education alongside expert and experienced teaching and learning and cutting edge mental health research. We are also a core part of the King’s College London community and there are many opportunities to engage with other disciplines; the Associateship of King’s College London and every possible walk of life – all of which have the potential to influence your knowledge, values and experience as a mental health nurse.

What’s the best advice you could give students who want to study at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery at King’s?

Start to think about your own values about mental health and mental illness and be open to exploring and challenging these values so that you can develop and learn from the people who will be in your care.

Ian Noonan RN (Mental Health) AKC FHEA
King’s Teaching Fellow & Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing
King’s College London
Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery

For more information on Mental Health Nursing, click here.