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Apologies before I begin this post (not a great way to start, but a few points I have to cover to convey my own limitations!). I do not intend to offend anyone with the language I use – I understand when I refer to ‘talks’ or ‘speeches’ in this post that were delivered in sign language that there may be another way (maybe more tactful?) to say this but sadly I am not aware of what that is yet.
Last week I attended the 6th World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness.
I found myself in a part of Queens University I’ve never even heard of before – and, if I’m honest, it’s a much classier spot than us student nurses get to learn in!
Riddel Hall stood prominently on the decadent lawn welcoming in delegates from around the world to discuss the issues surrounding mental health and deafness, with a specific relation to human rights.
The congress had opened the previous night in Belfast City Hall. It was only a little disappointing that the wine reception had been replaced by Irish Dancing…. It was on this first evening that I realised there is an alternative way to clap in sign (which I have to admit made me smile because my mind took me straight to ‘the secret signal’ from Team America). A mental note was made that night to begin to learn sign language. It was always something I coveted when I was little because it seemed so secret and special being able to talk without words.
Key themes of the conference were, of course, the rights of deaf people; legal issues; communication and awareness. There was also a lot of focus on language and identity and the topic of deaf-blindness was considered in a few talks.
With such a full schedule I elected to sit in on talks relating to deaf people and dementia, psychotherapy, mental health of deaf people with disabilities, deaf adolescent services, psychosis and personality disorders. Some themes that stood out from these were fire setting treatment and schema therapy which I’m going to look into further.
We had talks on individualised and holistic care – which is the idea we strive for in nursing. Empowerment was also discussed, however I had considered this in the past simply to be about giving patients choices and making them a partner in their care. This conference promoted a strong case that deaf services should be provided by deaf people, going much further than simply having deaf awareness in hearing people. They advised that there is a culture to understand , rather than simply a language.
An interesting point that came up in relation to this is the issue of translators. Whether we were talking about psychosis, dementia or other mental health concerns it was clear that if a translator was being used there might be a problem. Is the translator clued up on mental health issues? If not would he ‘clean up’ or rationalise that language of the service user? Does the translator know the service user well? Is there a good enough bond there that they are happy to communicate freely with them? Does having a translator in the room change the dynamic of the process? I have only worked once with a translator (for a hearing person of another language) and these were certainly issues we thought about then to some extent.
Professor Dr Cathy Chovaz talked about the rights of deaf children to be given a choice of language – that many people try to steer a child with deafness down a signing OR speaking route. She argued, however, that beginning with sign and then having speaking has bilingual advantages (such as speed and fluency another language is learned) and the child then has a choice over which language they would prefer to use and identify with.
We had a wonderful speech from Dr Michael Schwartz who conveyed his own personal experiences as a deaf person brought up to use only speech, before he discovered sign later in life, his adaptations as an attorney of law and now as a qualitative researcher.
As a strong believer in science I always used to think qualitative research wasn’t truly it – it can’t be measured against other things, it’s subjective…there are many things about it that don’t sit with me as ‘real’ science. I am coning round to the idea however that it does have a place in health – because we look after people, and people are individual (not clinical facts and figures). Dr Scwartz said that it is through narrative that changes will be made, which I believe is true.
Certainly at this conference the talks that stood out the most were the ones that focused on personal experience or a case study. The bland regurgitation of facts and figures, no matter how interesting the topic, fails to get me (personally) involved with it. It’s the application of those facts and figures to real life and real people which makes me sit up and listen.
Professor Dr Jan van Dijk gave an entertaining and moving talk about communicating and attuning to deaf-blind people. He showed some video examples of working with children and adults in his care which were astonishing, how quickly he could attune to them and communicate in a tactile mode. What I took away from it was that attuning to people in your care, no matter what their background or diagnosis is a very important part of their journey to health.
Despite the conference being very specialised there was so much that could be applied across the board in health care, and mental health especially. I am humbled I got the opportunity to attend.
I was recently given the opportunity to compete for a funded place at the World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness. The following is the short except that granted me the opportunity to attend this event next week.
Why do mental health nurses need to be deaf aware
There is a correlation between deafness and mental ill health. A deaf person is more likely to encounter mental health problems, either in childhood or later stages of their life. This in itself is an important consideration for a mental health professional, as it means they are likely to encounter deaf people in mental health services.
As mental health nurses we should be considering the holistic nature of every person, rather than a diagnosis. Deafness could impact on many areas of a person’s life. There may be potential differences in early development; access to services like education and employment which could lead to social isolation; and communication barriers themselves. All of these factors can impact on an individual’s mental well being. Recognising that many complex issues can contribute to a person’s health is necessary in order to successfully work with them in their treatment.
Being mindful of our own behaviour, barriers in communication and the frustration they can cause is always important as a metal health nurse. So much of our job involves listening to what patients and families have to say and communicating appropriately. Being deaf aware means understanding different types of communication support such as interpreters, potentially learning British Sign Language or much simpler things that will apply to anyone – like checking understanding as you are speaking to someone. It is through greater understanding that we can successfully advocate for a patient and provide more effective care.
It’s also poignant to consider the many aspects which might also affect people who are deaf or have hearing loss. Research has found links to hearing loss and social isolation, unemployment and even trauma reaction. This makes promoting good mental health all the more important.
It’s a sad prospect that deaf people have trouble accessing mental health services. Research from the Lancet in 2002 found a lack of deaf awareness, communication support and technology within mental health services, which is hopefully much improved more than ten years on, however a report published in October 2013 would suggest we still have a long way to go. The senior researcher of the report, Laura Matthews, said: “Decades of research show a clear link between hearing loss and mental health and yet mental health services are often inaccessible for deaf people”.
I am really looking forward to the conference, if a little intimidated about the prospect of networking (or even having to look like a real grown up!). It’s an amazing opportunity, especially for an undergraduate student nurse.
My only concern is that I am currently not that deaf aware. We had a brief lecture on the topic in our first year…. When I stop and think about it I’ve spent a lot of my time this summer in a bit of a bubble not even being that ‘people aware’. I need to get back into the mindset of thinking about others again. I’m a little worried about offending someone – any pointers anyone can give me to avoid that would be very gratefully received!
I will let you know how it goes – triumphs and pitfalls!
Before I begin I just want to state that there are many different opinions about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This post is not about weighing up the pros and cons or discussing the side effects. It’s certainly not meant to offend any sensibilities. I believe if someone is in the situation of considering this treatment then they can find much better sources of information for making up their own mind. (And I haven’t used any names or places to protect any identities I might have come across)
This post is about a student nurse’s experience of observing ECT during a placement, and what the procedure involves from my understanding (which may be limited, but it was my first placement!).
For my first six weeks placement as a student mental health nurse I was based on a male psychiatric ward. Before we went out I had a long chat with my personal tutor about what to expect – fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge is always rather intimidating! One of the things we discussed at length was what would happen if the possibility of observing electroconvulsive therapy came up.
Having a psychology degree already I had a little awareness of the procedure, but we had always been taught that the only reason ECT was used in the first place was because of the rationale that people with epilepsy did not experience symptoms of schizophrenia. This always made me quite skeptical of it’s use, and films like one flew over the cuckoos nest didn’t do much to promote me to it either.
Studies have found a link between lack of knowledge and negative attitudes towards ECT, among nurses as well as student nurses (Byrne, Cassidy and Higgins, 2006), so I was glad that I had chance to discuss it at length before seeing the procedure first hand. A couple of the patients told me on the ward that one of the most important things we could be as mental health nurses is non-judgmental, so I would have hated to come across as biased at such an important time.
I was also lucky that I had seen a documentary called Bedlam on the modern day patients of the South London and Maudsley trust, where a patient had been through the treatment with, for me, rather astonishing results.
For anyone that needs a little background on what ECT (or electroshock therapy as it used to be known) is, it is usually a last line of intervention for psychological disorders like depression. That means other methods, like talking therapy or medication, will have been tried first. It consists of passing an electric current into the brain to create a short seizure.
It wasn’t until the final week of my first 6 weeks nursing placement that we got chance to observe the procedure. Prior to this I had also had chance to talk in depth with a patient on the ward who had been through the procedure, which was very helpful. The reason we couldn’t observe until week 6 was partly down to the fact that no one from our ward was undergoing the procedure at the time (it being about 70% more common to be undertaken by females). It also made it difficult to follow a patients journey through the procedure – I was just there during and post treatment so had to research the pre-treatment myself.
According to guidelines a nurse has the following four issue to consider when they are taking a patient through ECT:
(1) providing emotional and educational support to the patient and family/carer before treatment
(2) assessing the pre-treatment plan and the patient’s behaviour, memory, and functional ability prior to ECT
(3) preparing and monitoring the patient during the actual procedure
(4) recovering patient, observing and interpreting patient responses to ECT with recommendations for changes in the treatment plan as appropriate
If a patient is being prepared for ECT, besides giving them knowledge on the procedure and answering any questions they or their family may have, there are a few things that have to happen beforehand. A thorough physical assessment has to take place, making sure the patients heart, bones, lungs and teeth are healthy enough with ECG, x-ray and blood tests. This also rules out the possibility of the symptoms having an organic cause. The spine is checked as well as familial history of spinal problems. They also have to have their medication assessed for contraindications, which could mean not taking it for a time prior to the treatment.
The patient will be required to be nil by mouth (not eat or drink anything) for usually about 8 hours before treatment, to prevent asphyxiation under anesthetic. You would also discourage smoking before a treatment.
If you are on a ward with a patient you would encourage them to shower before they go for treatment (having clean dry hair encourages good contact for the electrodes). The patient should also be asked to remove any hairspray, creams, make-up or nail polish, or metal slides or grips pre-treatment for the same reason. You would also encourage a patient to go to the bathroom before the procedure to empty the bladder to avoid incontinence and minimise the risk of bladder damage or distention.
The named nurse (or equivalent) would then escort the patient to the procedure room, usually in a day procedure or out patient unit. The room I was in looked a lot like this:
Before the patient gets into the procedure room the nurses, and doctors set up the necessary equipment (cannulae, varying grades of syringe and needle, bag and mask to breath for the patient under anesthetic, etc.). The nurses do a check of the equipment as well.
I was there with a fellow student nurse and they asked us to check the electrodes were working. We were supervised doing the checks which involves pressing the electrodes onto a plate and pressing the button on top until you hear a clear beep. I know I was extremely nervous about this (what would happen if I let the electrode slip and zapped myself with it?!) so it took me a couple of goes to get the technique.
When the patient comes in to the room they are introduced to the members of staff – usually a couple of nurses, an anesthetist and one or two psychiatrists. The patients identity would be double checked. Wires are then applied for ECG (electrocardiogram – measures heart activity) monitoring and EEG (electroencephalogram – measures brain activity) monitoring and an IV cannula is inserted at the hand – to make giving anesthetic and muscle relaxant easier. Your blood pressure and oxygen saturation will be measured and the blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter will be left on during the procedure to monitor you, like this:
The nurse ensures that the patients shoes are removed (to help understand when the patient is in seizure) and any dentures, hearing aids, prosthesis, glasses, contact lenses, etc. are removed just prior to the intervention (to allow good communication up to that point, and then to protect the patient).
The patient will then be anesthetised, with a short acting anesthetic (about 5 to 15 minutes) and given a muscle relaxant. In my case the anesthetist then ‘breathed’ for the patient using the mask and oxygen. She was aiming to hyper oxygenate the blood before the procedure as you do not give oxygen during the seizure. Once the mask comes off a guard goes into the mouth to stop damage occurring.
The psychiatrist will then clean the patients temples and apply conductive gel to the electrodes. These are then placed on the temples and the sock is administered. The psychiatrist is watching for slight movement of the feet, and the reading of the EEG to see if the shock has created a seizure. A seizure of 20 to 50 seconds is seen as therapeutic. In our case it was the nurse that counted this out. In new cases the doctor would always try and use the lowest voltage to induce this seizure, known as the seizure threshold.
During this stage we, as student nurses, were standing back and observing. To me it was very interesting to see just how surgical the whole procedure is – I never realised that you would need to breathe for the patient when they are under muscle relaxant (even though it makes sense!). There is also so much monitoring going on.
The seizure itself was often hardly visible, which surprised me. It was so interesting to watch the whole procedure I didn’t have an emotional reaction which I thought I would. Yes we felt awkward just watching rather than being involved, but this is becoming a normal part of being a student nurse – there is rarely a week goes by on placement when I am not feeling awkward or lacking knowledge at some point!
What made the procedure for me was being able to talk to some of the patients before they went under. A few ladies were there for refresher treatments – which means they had their original course and this was just to keep them well anywhere from 6 months to 1 year on from their original course. There’s nothing like hearing it from the horses mouth how much they were happy with the treatment, and how it has worked for them.
We were also able to assist with some patients at the start of their ECT course of treatment (some who were detained for treatment), which meant reassuring them and trying to calm them to enable them to go through the procedure as easily as possible for them.
After the quick intervention oxygen is administered again, until the anesthetist is confident the patient is breathing on their own again and the patient is taken round to recovery, which looked like this:
We followed a couple of patients round to recovery, which involved care of an unconscious patient. There has to be at least one staff member per patient during this phase. We were able to monitor and record vital signs every few minutes to monitor their condition and talk to them as they came round. I also removed a cannula from a patients arm, which was a first for me.
Patients can often feel a bit nauseous after the treatment and it’s a matter of trying to make them feel comfortable until they feel able to have some refreshment, or be moved round to a waiting area.
What did I get out of observing this treatment?
A greater understanding of what ECT is, what it does, what it involves and why patients would choose to undertake it. Care of an unconscious patient. Various ways of monitoring vital signs and why they are important. Importance of reassurance to patients, and explaining the procedure. Aspects of surgical technique. Multidisciplinary team working together.
And probably much more should I go back another time and see what I missed on this first opportunity!
What would I do differently in my practice reflecting on this?
Always introduce myself to patients as well as try and put them at ease – often I assume as a student nurse I’m so insignificant no one needs to know my name! Always ask if you can get involved – even as a first years there’s usually something you can do. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid – it’s going to happen a lot while I’m learning!
Apologies for radio silence…. again (beginning to wonder if this disclaimer should appear on all my posts…). It’s exam time again so I haven’t had too many moments to use my brain for enjoyment – in fact during down time all it can be subjected to is re-runs of project runway because it’s a fact that the wisdom of Tim Gunn simply seeps in via diffusion!
However, being a fan of a cheeky, quirky list or two this was right up my street! And a friend on Facebook put it up so my precious brain cells have been saved to worry about why the words peristalsis, erythropoieses and anomie keep flying out of my mouth like health and social tourettes!
I am LOVING the lamp of freaky trees – although the practicalities would mean I may be too scared to turn the light on in that room again!
The hammock bed and slip n slide stairs would be a given – if I had confidence that the house would not crumble around me upon use of either.
Wouldn’t mind the indoor garden either. Or the beachy firepit. Or the ice cave!
To be honest I’m coverting most of the stuff on this list and I’m keen to start looking for more dream interior items once my revision syndrome has abated!
If anyone has this sort of thing in their home please share – so I can be in awe of you! Or let me know what your top item would be and we can combine to create the ultimate (hopefully not, but probably definitely would be, creepy) commune ;-)