May I begin by thanking HORATIO, the European Association, and the Maltese Association of Psychiatric Nurses, for kindly asking me to deliver a welcome speech to launch this very laudable initiative focusing on the important role of mental health nursing and the role it has in modern medical treatment.
The fact that this is the fourth such initiative between the Malta Association, and the European Association, speaks volumes in showing how active the Maltese Association is, and how keen it is to share experiences, compare notes, and learn from the experiences of others.
This is what is meant when we say that health is a universal right to all citizens, and that medical and nursing knowledge should be freely shared, to achieve one of the most important sustainable development goals: SDG 3 which states that ‘we have to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages’.
Nursing as a profession, is not for the faint hearted. It is a vocation for the kindhearted. It takes more than just knowledge and practice. It takes a disposition, an aptitude, and a readiness to help others, to serve when most needed, and a fortitude and magnitude, big enough to transmit to others.
Mental health nurses, have to be made of sterner stuff.
Their patients are not the cuddly, babies or children, one sees in pediatrics, with huge recuperative powers; they are not the thankful middle aged patients with medical conditions, or those recuperating from surgical interventions in our medical or surgical wards; or the geriatric patients blissfully living the days away.
Mental health nurses have to deal with much more than that; though we have to admit that things are much better today than they used to be in the not-too-distant past. With mental health patients, there are always varying degrees of problems with nurse patient communication, compliance, predictability, reliability, and attitudes.
Thankfully today mental health is no longer the Cinderella of medical practice.
There is definitely much more awareness, and this has helped reduce, if not remove completely the stigma past generations attached to mental health. Because of the availability of more specific medicines, selectively targeting the symptoms, rather than relying on ‘umbrella’ therapy, the prospects of healing, and getting over the condition, and back to normality have improved considerably.
Treatment has become more humane, less punishing, less drastic, and more socially acceptable, and promising of good results. New drugs, and a more humane approach have made less institutionalization possible, in exchange for a more community-based treatment regime.
Today two of the biggest challenges psychiatric nurses have to cope with, are those coming from degenerative mental conditions, and those developing as a result of the ever-increasing stress our modern way of living is having on our mental faculties.
This is not excluding conditions resulting from excessive use of alcohol and other addictive substances.
Achieving and enjoying normal mental health depends on the synchronisation of a large number of personal and societal parameters, that in a developed society we tend to take for granted.
Today’s society is evidently under much more stress than were our fathers. We are less relaxed. We are continuously trying to reach targets. We are continuously being challenged to perform better. At school. In our social contacts. In our jobs. There are more financial commitments than there used to be before, especially on young couples. The fear of disease and mostly of cancer. The fear of dementia.
Covid 19 tested those parameters to the limit. Besides the purely medical aspect of Covid, the pandemic brought along with it fear and anxiety about the unknown, as well as mental health problems directly due to the unexpected consequences it had on business, loss of jobs, disrupted schooling, and the mandatory separation and seclusion of our elderly patients, some of whom unfortunately departed this life, deprived even of being comforted in their last hours by a relative or close friend.
It is no wonder our nurses, and our mental health professionals who stood in in these dramatic circumstances, were lauded as ‘heroes’, for the inestimable services they rendered to the community during the pandemic.
When it comes to mental health we are confident in saying that today we are more supportive of mental health cases, we have learnt more about the aetiology of the conditions afflicting our patients, and hence we can empathise more.
I congratulate the Malta Association of Psychiatric Nurses, who in its 16 years of existence has actively tried to improve and recognize the roles and standards of Psychiatric Nursing in Malta, with the aim to empower, educate, and strengthen the role of the nurse in mental health, and actively participate in mental health promotion in the Maltese Islands.
As in all other subjects, there is much to learn from participation in international organisations.
Sharing experiences is always instructive.
This is how knowledge in any particular field or subject accumulates.
Knowledge in turn gives confidence, and it is precisely this confidence we show while treating our patients that convinces them that we can help them steer their way back to normality.
We can only gain our patients’ trust by showing them that we care, by convincing them that we know what is wrong with them, and that we are confident that we have the necessary tools to help them.
I wish you fruitful discussions.