Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Role Model?

I had a drunken chat on twitter last night which has led me to think about this particular topic, but in all honesty I think my opinion remains the same now that I am sober. I said the following on twitter “Who ever has hid my lighter please give it back. I know smoking is bad but now is not the time.” which led to friendly banter and the statement that has given birth to this blog “… but you are a role model!”. For those of you that don’t know I am a mental health nurse.

This kind of statement can get me really annoyed (although not in this case as I was chatting to a friend). Do all health care professionals have to strive to be the healthiest they can in order to achieve the role model status? Honestly, I think it is bollocks. I think health care professionals are human beings like everyone else, so they have bad habits, some drink, some smoke, some don’t exercise and some have an appalling diet. Does this mean they are failing their profession? Would you change your mind about your GPs opinion if you found out he/she smoked?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think those that work in health care should be an example of poor health or an alcoholic or drug addict (although I know some people do develop these unfortunate habits, it often means the end of their professional career). But we should be allowed to be just like everyone else. Of course I know I should quit smoking, in fact I know it is the single best thing I could do for my health. I was a trained smoking cessation advisor, I was the lead in this role at my last place of work. When I tell people this they call me a hypocrite, I guess in a way I am. But I am very honest with the service users (in mental health we are not supposed to use the word patient), I applaud them at being ready to take up the challenge of quitting smoking, and if they are successful brilliant, unfortunately I have failed at this task several times. It is after all an addiction, just because I am a nurse and well informed about the dangers and how to go about quitting does not make me magic or have superpowers, I still have the cravings and habit to get rid of and it isn’t easy. The service users I have discussed this with respect my honesty and that I can fail at something while supporting them to achieve it, I understand how hard it can be. The other part to smoking cessation within mental health is that it can be more complicated than just stopping, it can affect sleep, mood, mental state and absorption of some medications, so having mental health staff trained to support service users through the process is much more than just helping them beat the cravings.

When I applied to be trained there was a debate within the trust, the difficulty was that a lot of mental health staff smoked, so by not allowing any of them to train we would be very limited in who could offer the support to the service users on the wards. I remember a conversation with someone very senior to me and she said “Fat people run obesity clinics.”, she is right. I’m sure the nurses that work on the wards that have the detox service users still go home at the weekend and have a nice glass of wine or three (I would be worried if they went home and had heroin though),

The key to providing good health care in my opinion is having the knowledge and skills to provide information and support. But as much as I know I should have a slightly lower BMI, exercise more and although I know my diet is quite healthy most of the time, the huge bags of crisps are a bit wrong; this does not mean I cannot advise others aim to do all of these things. I am honest when I teach at my healthy living group, I tell them I can’t give up the crisps and cheese, they are my bad habits. But I am also realistic in my expectations of them. I don’t expect the service users I see to instantly meet all of the NHS targets like 5 A Day (fruit/Vegetables) or five 30 minute sessions of moderate intensity exercise a week, as these are ideals. They are targets. So I encourage service users to make those small changes that will hopefully lead to the bigger ones and eventually improve their health. To walk for 10 minutes, to switch to wholegrain bread, to cut down on the cigarettes and alcohol. I can do all this with a clean conscience because this is what I do. I don’t expect to be perfect, that saintly “role model”. I signed up to be a mental health nurse because I want to help people, not because I am better than anyone else, so I can show them how it is done. In the last few years I have changed my diet dramatically and have fit exercise into my daily routine, I have had many failed attempts at quitting smoking, but I have taken small steps and I have cut down. So I am not a hypocrite just because I smoke and I like a drink as I never set out to be the perfect role model for anyone. My bad habits do not affect my ability to do my job. I provide a service and that is often to educate and support people, just because I have the knowledge it does not mean I have the willpower to use it. We are all only human.

Thanks for reading, feel free to comment, disagree or wish you had the last couple of minutes of your life back.