To hope is to be human, to believe that better days are coming even as darkness descends.
Carrie Paterson deals with hope by the bucket load, bearing its joyous weight until her patient is ready to receive it – and ultimately stand alone.
As World Mental Health Day approaches on October 10, the mum of three is determined to dispel myths and ultimately help people on the road to recovery.
She works across north Aberdeenshire as a community mental health nurse within Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership.
Carrie is also team lead, and manages fellow dedicated professionals across Peterhead, Banff, Fraserburgh and Central Buchan.
From the immense privilege of becoming part of someone’s life, to ending the stigma around mental health conditions – we caught up with Carrie to find out more.
‘Nobody wanted to talk about mental health’
“I’ve been a mental health nurse for 13 years now, with the last seven years spent in the community,” said Carrie.
“If I look back to when I was growing up, nobody wanted to talk about mental health.
“Everyone has their own mental wellbeing – we are all likely to experience a difficulty, either in ourselves or someone we know, at some point in our lives.”
Carrie predominately works with patients who are faced with “severe and enduring” mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.
“I love the people and the challenge,” said Carrie.
“Of course some people can be wary of our services, especially if they are quite unwell.
“I never see myself as telling people what to do though, it’s about being able to have those open conversations where I ask, ‘How can I help you?’
“Every day is different, especially when I’m doing new assessments.
“Someone is trusting me with their story; I don’t think we can always put ourselves in the shoes of the patient, but we position ourselves in such a way as to help them through a particular period in their life.
“I never forget what an honour that is.”
A key part of Carrie’s role is to enable patients to keep themselves safe in moments of distress.
This can prove life-saving for patients who may be faced with suicidal thoughts.
“There’s a huge focus on empowering that person to understand their illness,” said Carrie.
“Sometimes we’re not necessarily looking at a cure, but recovery.
“Lots of people live with a mental health condition, our day-to-day work is helping them to live a fulfilled life.
“As a community mental health nurse I shouldn’t be involved forever; I’m a step towards that person feeling a lot more independent again.”
Education is key
Educating patients is one thing, but Carrie believes stigma prevails in certain areas of mental health.
She routinely comes up against old-fashioned attitudes to severe mental illness, particularly in smaller and more rural communities.
“Society can see severe and enduring mental illness as something extreme and dangerous,” she said.
“Those beliefs are so stigmatising, when in reality a lot of people live with their symptoms and manage them well.
“It can translate as a very real worry when they get into a new relationship, workplace or college because they don’t want to necessarily tell people about their illness for fear of judgement and how they will be perceived.
“This is where education comes in, to empower people to knock on their neighbour’s door and ask them if they’re ok.”
Carrie is hopeful that thanks to social media alongside events in the community, attitudes are gradually changing for the better.
Almost part of the family
Due to the nature of her work, she often gets to know each patient incredibly well, which makes saying goodbye bittersweet.
“In becoming part of someone’s life, you get to know their parents, their kids, even their dog,” said Carrie.
“I’ve seen incredibly unwell people go on to no longer need me anymore, and that’s very rewarding.
“If I wanted people to know one thing about mental health, with the right support and the right help, everything is recoverable.”
At the heart of Carrie’s work is hope, a poignant belief that is dear to her heart.
“If you are feeling hopeless, I will hold that hope for you,” she said.
“I’ll hold on to it until the time comes when you’re ready to hold it yourself.”
World Mental Health Day is on October 10. If you are struggling with any mental health issues, help is always available. Speak to Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline 116 123.