‘I’m really proud to be a mental health nurse’ | News and events

‘I’m really proud to be a mental health nurse’

To celebrate Mental Health Nurses Day on 21 February, Mandy Kirby, from the Mother and Baby Unit at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, talks about how her own experiences shaped her career and why her heart remains in mental health nursing.

Cut her in half and you would see ‘mental health nurse’ running through the core of Mandy Kirby like a stick of rock.

“Over the years I’ve had people suggest to me that I would make a good therapist, but mental health nursing is where my heart is,” she said. “It’s a really under-rated career. We seem to be the Cinderella of the services but there are some fantastic nurses out there which we should be celebrating.”

It was her own experiences which led Mandy down her chosen career path, having had a difficult time after giving birth to her first child, a daughter who is now in her 30s. She returned to study once all her three children were at school and qualified aged 38. 

“I’m really proud to be a mental health nurse. I’ve had an amazing career and worked with some amazing people,” she said.

Fifteen years on from qualifying, she is currently on secondment as clinical lead nurse at the Kingfisher Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) at Hellesdon Hospital.

Mental health and pregnancy has been a driving force during her career and she has been at the forefront of developments in Norfolk and Suffolk to make sure this vulnerable group of people has the right care.

While working in the community in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, Mandy was the first mental health nurse to join the multi-disciplinary team for the Parent Infant Mental Health Attachment Project (PIMHAP) for NSFT with Suffolk County Council children’s services, following the sad deaths of a mother and her children in Lowestoft.

But she said: “I found we were always missing a core of vulnerable women with bi-polar so I wanted to create the first perinatal service in Great Yarmouth and Waveney.”

She worked with the Eden team, which were a team of specialist midwives at the James Paget Hospital, and NSFT Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist Dr Somayya Kajee to run joint clinics for those who were vulnerable and pregnant.

Her work on this led to a similar collaboration in Norfolk and ultimately the creation of the MBU, which she helped interview staff for.

Her nursing career began at a new psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) when it first opened at Hellesdon Hospital. “The team there was like a family, and this forged my career. They were great role models,” she said. She has also worked at the now closed Blundeston Prison in Suffolk.

Her current job, pre secondment, is with the adult community mental health team (CMHT) based at Victoria House in Lowestoft, where she went to expand her knowledge of non-medical prescribing after five years in the community perinatal team.

She also lectures midwives at the UEA on how to spot mental health issues in pregnancy and is doing a three-year, part-time university course to complete an Advanced Clinical Practitioner course.

Her home life is no less busy. Having seen the last of her three children off to university six years ago, she and her husband immediately long-term fostered three siblings, aged one, eight and 10.

“I feel really lucky that my family has always supported me to work, my husband does most of the childcare. It’s not always easy but it’s really rewarding,” she said.

NSFT chief executive Caroline Donovan said she was very proud to be a nurse delighted to celebrate Mental Health Nurses Day and recognise the work and commitment of the trust’s mental health nurses. 

“The impact that nurses have on the lives of those they provide care for, and work with, should not be underestimated. Mental Health nursing is not only a career choice, but also a life choice. Many of these colleagues often put the needs of our patients above their own, and for this I am incredibly grateful and humbled,” she said.

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