My name is Julia and I’m an Associate Professor of Mental Health Nursing at Swansea University.
I focus on promoting positive mental health and addressing health inequality. Public and patient involvement is central to the way I work, with a focus on talking, listening and communicating, in order to connect with people on their terms.
I do this because I love working with people, and everyone’s mental health is important.
I started to volunteer at a local sports centre with people with mental health problems. It was quite a casual environment. People would sit around and play Scrabble, have a couple of pints, have a quiz. It was run by mental health nurses and they said to me, ‘Julia, why don’t you consider mental health nursing as a career?’ And it was just a revelation.
I have always been very interested in promoting positive mental health, and I’ve always been interested in preventing mental health problems from getting any worse.
Knowing I had an interest in teaching and supporting nursing students, and knowing that I’ve always had a great interest in research, working in a university setting was something that I always wanted to do and sought to do.
After my PhD I wanted to focus on an area where I could make a significant difference. I learned that people who are deaf experience twice the number of mental health problems than the hearing population, and learning about the health inequalities that deaf people experience, I thought, ‘Well, this is really important!’. So my research started there, with an all-Wales group for deaf mental health and wellbeing.
The service users play the role of patients, in a university setting, so that students can practise their communication skills, and engage with people, and ask them all manner of questions.
In mental health nursing, talking and listening is so important. It’s the majority of what we do. We are connecting with people.
We think particularly about risk assessment. How somebody can take charge of their own risks, and how to have difficult conversations, like how to connect with somebody who might want to take their own life, who might engage in self-harming behaviour, who might use a lot of illegal substances.
Our work can be anywhere – eating lunch with somebody, walking across the road with somebody, on a bus with somebody – because we are always connecting, observing, assessing, and seeing what the important parts of life are for that particular individual.
I believe that accessible communication for all population groups is really important, so I started learning British Sign Language and continue to develop my skills. We want nurses to be able to communicate with a wide range of different people and communities.