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Mental Health nursing students apply their skills in a simulated ‘real-life’ situation.

The award winning Mental Health Simulation Programme took an evolutionary step forward this summer when six postgraduate student nurses spent the day honing their skills in simulated homes of clients with mental health problems.

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The setting
With a collection of realistic props, the Crime House at Kingston University was transformed into the homes of two clients with mental health problems who had been discharged from the ward back into the community.

Two experienced actors took on the challenge of playing these clients in this new and challenging learning environment. Two Mental Health lecturers from the School of Nursing coordinated events and offered supportive facilitation to ensure that a safe and effective learning environment for all involved was maintained.

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The experience
Everyone’s experience of the day was overwhelmingly positive. Students reported that the scenarios were very realistic – much more believable than the standard classroom-based simulations – and were seen as highly relevant to their own professional development needs. Assessing the environment as well as the person was seen as very important: with students also being encouraged to consider the wider issues within the context of the person’s life experiences and not just their illness symptoms.  The event brought the students much closer to the experience of community care, where the interactions with people struggling with mental distress hold uniquely different challenges to hospital based settings. These interactions required more subtle skills and more in-depth work which the students were able to experiment with as a consequence of the day.

Feedback from the actors was that they felt more empowered in their role as the client in this setting as opposed to classroom based work. This was their home, their territory, and the student nurses were the guests which changed the relationship between ‘client’ and nurse and allowed the actor to be more expressive and more ‘real’ within their performances.

The learning
This learning experience was new to everyone involved and being new, unpredictable and ever-changing, it was both exciting and very tiring. We all learned a great deal – students, teachers and role players all emerged feeling more skilled, experienced and ready to take on more challenges. We feel strongly, that, as the vast majority of mental health services today are delivered in the community rather than on inpatient wards, this development in our approach to teaching mental health skills will prepare students better for their roles as contemporary mental health nurses.

The steps forward
We look forward to building on these first steps with our future student groups and plan to explore inter-professional opportunities with our other health and social care colleagues.