I qualified as a psychiatric nurse but now I’m in despair

After I was hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital, I did not return to nursing, as I did not like how I was treated as a patient. Now I do nothing all day but watch TV, eat and sleep

PROBLEM: I’m wondering if you can help me. I’m 33, live at home with my parents and do nothing all day but watch TV, eat and sleep. I would really like to have a job that I like and a life of my own, but I can’t find anything that suits, so I stay at home day after day doing nothing.

I qualified as a psychiatric nurse a couple of years ago, but, after I was hospitalised in a psychiatric hospital, I did not return to it, as I did not like how I was treated as a patient. I didn’t want to be part of a system that, in my opinion, abuses people’s human rights by locking them up and medicating them against their will. It happened to me, and I found it very distressing.

I want to be part of something that is meaningful and to help people in some capacity, but I don’t know where to turn. Do you know of some therapeutic centre or organisation either here or abroad where people are treated more humanely? Where instead of labelling people as mentally ill, they are listened to, understood and reassured that their experience is meaningful and makes sense in the context of their lives.

I don’t believe mental illness is a result of a so-called biochemical imbalance. I would really appreciate your help on this matter, as I feel I’m wasting my life away and am getting more and more hopeless by the day.

ADVICE: Your letter demonstrates a whole range of things: resilience, in that you completed a nursing qualification; an interest in all things to do with mental health; but also a sense of hopelessness and despair. It is very difficult to make a life decision from a place of inertia and dissatisfaction, so perhaps the first thing to address is getting out of the house and engaging more with the world. Initially you do not need to get involved in something that will change your life; you simply need to connect with like-minded people.

This might be in the form of volunteering with a mental-health support organisation. A trawl through the internet should turn up ones that inspire you. There are many organisations that support alternative treatments for mental health along with traditional medical models. These alternative methods can include mindfulness, mediation, yoga, and dietary and nutritional options. It might be an idea to find out first-hand what it is like to practise some of these things and to invest in courses or read books that lead to real knowledge.

Sitting at home all day watching TV is an invitation to misery, so anything that gets you out and involved will be a starting point to getting you back to a real sense of yourself. The idea that you are wasting your life is very troublesome, and it can have the effect of blocking any initiative you might have.

Meet someone for coffee, discuss what you might see as the needs of the world and how you might begin to chip away at these. You have personal and professional experience of mental health problems, and so you are in a unique position to be an advocate for people who have less experience than you.

In order to enlighten or challenge a system, it is often better to do so from within by inspiring others and demonstrating how other routes can work with traditional models. There might be an option for you to work with people in the community rather than in institutions, and to use your influence there instead.

However, if this is not possible, you might engage in a course that enhances your skills in the mental health area: could you train as a mindfulness practitioner, get training to work on a helpline for those in trouble or do a more body-oriented course? These new skills, combined with your nursing background, could be a very valuable commodity in the changing world of mental health.

However, we can only help others to the extent that we are well ourselves. Treat yourself well, value your knowledge and experience, spend time with people you admire and cut down on mindless TV.

If you succeed in pulling yourself out of your current situation, you will be in a greater position to help others in similar situations.

Remember that you had the motivation and resilience to complete a very demanding psychiatric nursing course and those skills are simply buried under the weight of hopelessness at the moment. Moving and engaging will shift this weight, and confidence and self-worth lie beneath. Just take the first step today.