Inspiration and reflection on our time spent at the ‘Future of mental health nursing conference’

Image alt text

Zarah Thomas- Final year mental heath nurse

On the train back from Edinburgh one of my fellow colleague’s made a comment that summarised how most of us felt: ‘ This conference has made me a better nurse’. From the heart felt lived experience from Tommy Whitelaw, whose mother was diagnosed with dementia to all of the interactive sessions and healthcare stalls including ‘Work The World’, who arrange and support nursing students in placements and internships overseas.

For me a highlight of the conference was Playlist For Life, as everyone has a favourite song or a song linked to a memory. For me it was Eyrkah Badu ‘On and on’ as it brought back memories of the 90s for me. Music is important to most of us and  especially people with dementia as it invokes memories by activating neurons in the brain. Play list for life encourages families to create a musical play list of favourite songs that can be played to bring joy and ease distress in people with dementia. We watched a video that showed patients and family members connecting with each other through music.

I would suggest that everyone takes time to think about songs and music that mean something special for them, and create your own playlist.

Jessica Cummin- 1st year mental health nurse

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend The Future Mental Health Nursing conference in Edinburgh, and it was a truly insightful experience. There was great variation in the themes covered, with the day split into workshops focusing on mindfulness, trauma informed practice and speeches given by Fiona McQueen, Tommy Whitelaw and David McCollom. I learnt a huge amount from the trauma informed practice workshop and have handouts that I can refer to throughout my education. The one resounding thing I couldn’t help but notice however, was the lack of service user led workshops and talks. There were many opportunities, both within workshops and speeches where a service user perspective could have been incredibly insightful. In a room full of professionals, sometimes the conversations can be based on presumptions about patients, rather than experience from their point of view.

With a conference full of future mental health nurses from various catchment areas around the country, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to gain insight from service users around the care they have received and proactive changes that can be made to ensure better practice. Hearing from or about service user participation in schemes where they are advisors in formulating better care would have been deeply informative.

Whilst the information shared at the conference was genuinely valuable, it came mostly from professionals or those with personal / vicarious experience of nurses. However neither were able to bridge the line between service user and informant. If there can be workshops that take both a clinical and personal approach in educating future mental health nurses, I feel it would be an absolutely vital and unique experience, especially since our education tends to come from a purely academic or professional perspective.

The speakers with lived experience were inspiring but to really gain an intricate insight into the elements of being a service user we need to hear from people who are  still actively participating in treatment. Areas such as trauma, personal care, addiction and vulnerability were focused on throughout the day. If there had been people with lived experience articulating their opinions on current practice, what helps, what doesn’t and so on, I feel it would have tied the conference together. Perhaps having mental health nurses with lived experience speak would be a powerful perspective as their practice is underpinned by both the NMC approved curriculum and personal experience.

It felt very motivational to be part of the conference and to meet with potential employers and colleagues. It was an experience I am incredibly eager to participate in again and I cannot wait to see how the conference continues to grow and develop.

Happy Busingye- 1st year student mental health nurse

It is of great honour to have been chosen and given an opportunity to attend the conference. I will forever be grateful to the mental health nursing department at Middlesex University.

It was a good experience to travel to new places and meet new people. Just being with other students working towards the same goal was a great opportunity to share our own experiences and challenges.

 ‘You can make a difference’

The ice breaker and transforming experience of the conference that changed my way of thinking and working as nurse and carer was a topic by one of the speakers  Tommy Whitelaw on,’ You Can Make a Difference’. He shared his personal experience of caring for his mother who had Dementia and how we can make a difference to patients by changing our vocabulary on the wards as nurses and carers. He challenged us to change the conversation from:

What is the matter with you?


What matters to you?

The script goes like this: Ask the patient what matters to them. Listen carefully to what matters and do what matters. This is a simple but powerful way to make a difference to a patient’s life, this will be on top of my daily checklist throughout my career as a nurse.

Tommy also shared a music video, ‘I am a champion’ sung by Katy Perry.  I saw  the experience of many patients fighting for their lives with an attitude of ‘I can make it.’ Having a personal experience of having to fight through health issues, I realised there are people out there really fighting to stay healthy and strong, irrespective of the pain at the time.  I am determined to make a conscience, deliberate  decision that as a nurse I will go out there and fight alongside  them to get better healthcare experience.

To say I appreciate the opportunity is an understatement, academic knowledge alone would not have given me what I have now.




Designed and developed by The MTM Agency