Mental health nursing student insight: Jasmine Copeman

Jasmine Copeman - BSc Mental Health Nursing

What inspired you to choose to study mental health nursing?

"I never grew up knowing what I wanted to do, and decided to work in places I enjoyed, hoping I’d figure things out down the line.

"I started in retail before securing a job in a school, where I supported young people with learning difficulties then working within a sixth-form as part of the pastoral care team. The main part of this role was working alongside young people, supporting them with not just their studies but their whole lives. Between the ages of 16-19, a lot of things can happen, from homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, difficulties within the family and mental health struggles. Within schools, there is generally not a large amount of mental health training, so I went on local courses to learn how I could better support the young people I was working with. I got to know mental health workers, such as people working with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), drug and alcohol services, and community support.

"I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of the managers from the local CAMHS team, telling them how I would really like to be involved more in mental health, but I wasn’t sure how. She suggested training as a mental health nurse… and here I am three years later!"

"So when I look back and remember a time where I didn’t know what I wanted my 'forever' job to be, I think about the parts of my job I loved and why I wanted to expand on those areas. I loved working with people, a lot of people might say that, but I really truly did. The things I remember most are the stories; some were tragically sad, whilst others were less so. But there were also brilliant stories of laughter, triumph and compassion. Being there to support someone whilst they are grieving a lost one and holding their hand is a privilege. Listening to someone tell you about the trauma they have experienced, helping them to feel safe and cared for, is a privilege. Being the person who doesn’t give up on someone when they feel like the whole world has.

"Mental health nursing is a huge opportunity to do something meaningful and beautiful. 

"We get to work with people at all stages of life, whether it’s within children’s mental health services or supporting those with dementia. Not only do we work with those individuals experiencing mental health difficulties, but we work with their families and carers making a difference to not one but multiple lives. There is such a range of disciplines to work in, and the world really is your oyster when it comes to mental health nursing. 

"As mental health nurses, we get to hear the stories of people and the journey that they are on. Every day at work can be different because everyone you meet has their own story, their own meanings in life and their own navigation system around it."

What are your thoughts on our campus?

I am a student at the Exeter campus which suits me well location wise. Exeter is a beautiful city, with a good range of shops and restaurants. There is the beautiful quayside which is lovely for a summer evening walk, or you can drive not to far and reach the stunning Woodbury Common or the glistening seaside. I love to go wild swimming when I can and go all year around – it’s great having lots of beaches to choose from in whichever direction you go, and there are some beautiful, peaceful swimming spots on Dartmoor.

What excites you about your course?

"Over the course, I have had some excellent opportunities to expand my knowledge and experience. On placements, you are able to visit other linked teams which can show you a broader picture of the service you are working in. I was on placement within a secure service, and was able to spend a couple of days in the prison with the mental health team as part of my placement, learning what they do and how different the environment was. Some of the people within the service may have been to prison, so it gave me a better picture of their experiences before coming to the hospital. Anything we can do to help understand the stories of those we are working with only helps add to the experience and compassion we can bring.

"The lecturers at the University have been brilliant. My personal tutor has been more supportive than I ever could have asked for and is there to support me through both academic work as well as personal things going on in my life. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last summer, and she has been there for every step of the journey – nothing is ever too much and the staff genuinely care and want you to be the best version of yourself that you can be."

What advice would you give to future students considering nursing?

"I would absolutely encourage people to consider mental health nursing.We are so privileged in our work, working with people and their stories. We have the opportunity to make a real difference to someone. We can’t change the whole world, but we can change the world for someone.

"I always think, if I can make a difference to one person’s life, then that’s enough. In reality, we can touch many people’s lives, and their stories, experiences and journeys are intertwined with ours. It never feels like 'just a job' when I go to work or placement. It’s more than that, and I think it’s down to the nature of our work. I love the mindset that we have in mental health nursing, and it’s something I sometimes find difficult to put into words. It’s like a family of people who share the same ideas and values… of course everyone has their own spin on things and it’s great to have healthy debates, but what I mean are those values about love, support, compassion, making a difference, and being there for someone who is going through a difficult time."

Jasmine's placements have included:

  • 3 Acute inpatient
  • 3 OPMH (Older Persons Mental Health) inpatient
  • 3 Secure services
  • 3 Liaison psychiatry and the mental health assessment team

What skills have you gained so far?

"Over the course of my placements, I have experienced a range of different age groups, mental health presentations, and stages of recovery. During my inpatient placements, I have gained a better understanding of the Mental Health Act and how people may be detained for assessment/treatment. When with the liaison psychiatry team, we would work collaboratively with the RD&E hospital, meeting people who may have presented at A&E with mental health difficulties, or working with people who were staying on wards for physical health reasons whilst also experiencing difficulties with their mental health. My last placement was with the mental health assessment team, where I gained skills in undertaking full bio-psycho-social assessments, which is something I can use in any service in the future. All of my placements have taught me more about different mental health presentations, symptoms and diagnoses – someone may be experiencing things that others aren’t such as fixed beliefs of hearing voices, someone may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts to harm themselves, someone may be struggling with OCD and the distressing intrusive thoughts that can come with that. I have felt my confidence grow from one placement to the next, and I think that comes from the skills I gain from each placement, as you carry them to the next one and grow them even more, and so on."

"My proudest achievement whilst on the course has not necessarily been one thing, but looking back at how much I’ve grown as a person and as a nurse. When I think back to first year compared to now, and how much my skillset and confidence has grown. There are always things to learn in nursing, as everyone is unique with their own story, and I’m happy that I get to work in such a person-centred way, focusing on what is important to the individual. I really enjoy learning about and discussing the importance of therapeutic relationships and how we can work with people who have experienced trauma in their lives - listening to someone’s story and helping them make sense of things that have happened and find meaning in their lives."

When did you know you’d chosen the right career path?

"It’s really difficult to pick one moment, because there have been so many where I have thought 'wow, I really am doing this!'. Of course there are times on placement where you are 'nurse in charge' for the day, or where you write care plans and attend important meetings. But the moments that have made me pause and think 'wow', are the times when a person personally thanks you for helping them through a difficult situation, or where someone says “you’re going to be a really good nurse”. It also feels amazing when you have been working with someone and get to see part of their recovery journey… when someone who has found it too difficult to be in a room with others steps into the dining room, pulls up a chair, says hello to someone else and joins in. Or when someone asks to talk to you and proceeds to tell you about something that’s happened to them in the past which they have found too difficult to in the past, but they say they feel safe talking to you. It’s the little (not actually so little) things that really stick with you. I remember riding the bus home after my final shift on one of my placements, and a patient on the ward baked me a banana cake because they knew it was my favourite. It was one of the nicest cakes I’ve eaten."

What are your future ambitions?

"I hope to gain a wide experience throughout my career, and there seems to be endless opportunities for working within different services, or building up your skillset in a specific area and becoming more of an expert. I also see myself working with aspirant nurses whether that is as a mentor on placement, part of the practice education team or supporting the university. I’d love be able to pass on some of my experiences and what I’ve learnt to others.

"As a wild swimmer, I would love to do something like starting up group meetups where colleagues can all jump in the sea together. I find it really helps both my physical and mental wellbeing, and it just brings happiness to people."