At the RCH, we’re proud of our dedicated and talented team of hospital staff, specialists, doctors and nurses who provide great care to our community each day – and we want you to get to know them better!
Today, we’re launching a new series called #ChampionsForChildren, which highlights the diverse work of staff across the hospital and the often life-changing impact it has on our patients, families and community.
This week is Mental Health Week, an annual awareness week that aims to promote the importance of individual and community mental health and well-being, while also working to break the stigma surrounding mental illness.
To start our new series off, we sat down with Registered Psychiatric Nurse Sam Gronow, who takes us through a typical work day, some of the mental health challenges she’s seen as a result of the pandemic, and why it’s important to start a conversation about mental health.
What does a typical day at the RCH look like for you?
Working in Hospital Consultation Liaison (HCL) can be unpredictable, as many young people and children we see are acutely distressed. In the mornings, the team triage any new referrals and allocate clinicians to cases that are presented. Our team also provide education and mental health support to other staff involved in the patient’s care. Essentially, we are the mental health resource team for the whole hospital, and we love being able to provide this support.
Given this week is Mental Health Week, can you tell us more about the types of mental health challenges presented by the pandemic?
We have had a significant increase in mental health presentations to the hospital. Young people and children often manage their anxiety and mood via social interactions, such as being at school with peers and participating in extra-curricular activities. Young people cannot currently access these usual coping strategies, meaning they are not managing them as they did previously. We have seen many children presenting who have not been able to manage remote learning, and have fallen behind at school, which has also increased stress for them. Some children (not all!) don’t learn well this way, or have lost contact with that trusted teacher or support person at school.
Why is it so important to start a conversation and raise community awareness about mental health?
Mental health is not just about assessing for risk factors and safety plans. It is about hearing and validating people’s narratives and stories. If a person feels supported and heard, it can mean that they are less likely to find poor coping strategies. From a broader perspective, they will be more likely to be receptive to medical treatment and more motivated to engage in school and employment. Overall, it means much better health and social outcomes!
How was your team adapted to the challenges of COVID-19?
Like all teams at RCH, we have had to pivot and adapt to the circumstances of COVID-19. Whilst mental health clinicians are all about communication, much of what we do is about observation. We watch behaviour, facial expression and interactions between parent and young person as part of our assessment. This has been particularly difficult to accomplish through telephone, telehealth and through layers of PPE, so we’ve had to learn different strategies to accommodate for these things. In telehealth consultations with younger children, we’ve had to ensure parents remain in within the frame, so we can continue to observe the interactions between children and parents, as we would in person. When wearing PPE, we have begun to rely on humour in our interactions to show our patients that there is a real person under the PPE.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Meeting and getting to know young people and their families who are at their most vulnerable is an absolute privilege. Many of these people are having the worst experience of their lives and to be a trusted person who can just ‘be’ with these people and hear their rich stories and narratives is the most rewarding part of the job.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself or something your team may not know about you?
In my younger years, I was a three times state champion and national runner-up in first aid competitions.
What made you want to become a nurse?
Like most nurses, I wanted to help people! I became a mental health nurse because I was really curious about the interface between people’s medical conditions and their psychosocial circumstances, and how they impact upon each other.
What three things would you take to a desert island?
A tube of toothpaste, one Adidas sneaker, and a Rubik’s cube. Don’t ask.
This year has been challenging for everyone, and particularly for children and young people. If you need support, talk to your GP or a local counsellor. You can also call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.