Since our company is all about helping people in health care, I’d like to share my experience from previously working in a mental health ward. More specifically an elderly mental health ward. It was incredible to see people being able to reach out for help about their mental health and watching them get better. There was always so much for them to do, things such as baking, creative activities like drawing/colouring, going for walks and many more. But it wasn’t always positive. Lack of staff always puts a lot of pressure on the working staff especially through COVID.

I started working in a mental health ward through an agency at the start of 2021. I was only hired to be there for a few weeks to fill a gap, but it ended up turning into a few months. After a manager retired, the facility was unfortunately unable to keep agency workers, but I had enjoyed my time there, so I applied for a permanent job. It took four months, where I contacted the recruitment agency every week, before I was finally able to start a role. 

I was a Service Assistant, which meant I was responsible for cleaning the wards and kitchen duties. My favourite part of the job was when I was able to sit down with patients and have a chat with them. I grew such a connection with some of the patients that it was sad to see them leave, even though it was amazing to know that they had made so much progress within the ward that they were able to go back to their homes. Seeing a patient come into the ward and the mental state that they are in is heartbreaking but being able to watch their recovery and help them through it as much as you can is honestly the best feeling. This is what made me want to go back, it felt like a community and being that safe person for a patient to come to when they felt rough or needed a chat was so rewarding. The days were long (12 hour shifts) but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 


After the 4 long months of waiting I was so excited to go back to be able to help people but little did I know, I was going back to two understaffed wards. I was told I would be placed with a worker from a different ward who knew what they were doing and had been on my wards before. I went in for my first shift to be alone for an hour or so without knowing how to put food on for lunch or sort out breakfast, as when I was an agency worker I wasn’t able to handle food. Luckily there was a Nursing Assistant who had worked my job role before who was incredibly helpful and I can’t thank them enough as they helped me throughout the day as much as they could without disrupting their job role. They put the porridge on for me and put food in the ovens for lunch.

After a few hours on my own, a worker from another ward came over. I was glad I had some extra help, but they had never worked on my wards before. And in fact, when I previously worked there, I had only ever worked on Ward 1 so had little to no knowledge of the timings and what extra I had to do over on ward 2. It was an incredibly stressful day with two people who hardly knew what they were doing, having to cater for two full wards. 

As we got on with our day and did as much as we could, we never thought we’d have to trigger our personal safety alarms. We were in a patient’s room on the dementia ward when the patient suddenly appeared, trouser-less and confused about what we were doing in her room. She was, understandably, very agitated about it. She stood in the doorway being verbally abusive and wouldn’t let us leave the room. I pressed my personal alarm system to alert the nurses and get assistance but to my surprise it didn’t work! Luckily the other person I was working with was able to use hers. About 7 nurses rushed to our assistance, they were able to get her to calm down. They took her away so we were able to finish up in her room, but this caused even more stress on our already difficult day. We felt anxious to even step foot in that ward again. 

After this day I decided, I can’t mentally and physically keep up with shifts at such an understaffed place. As much as I loved to help people, I couldn’t put myself through that on a daily basis for such long days. 

Healthcare facilities being this understaffed puts such a strain on the workers who are definitely being underpaid and overworked, causing more days off and even people leaving. In my opinion, NHS workers definitely do not get the credit or pay they deserve by working in such difficult conditions. Especially mental health workers. The stories I heard, working on those wards, of workers being attacked and even ending up in hospital made me concerned for my safety if I stayed in this area of work. 

Processes must be reviewed in order to improve these conditions, and the support and pay of the workers must be raised to match the demands and importance of the role, especially with the
drastic rise in mental health conditions . The waiting lists for even getting seen in the mental health sector is even worse. Personally, I’ve been on a waiting list since January 2021 and probably for the foreseeable future. 

Even pulling away from the mental health section, all waiting lists are ridiculously long especially for people who need them. I had an anaphylactic shock in late June 2021, we have no idea what is causing the allergy, as I’ve never had any issues with anything before this incident. I’ve done some digging to find out when is the earliest I can get seen and I’ve been told it could be longer than a year! My biggest concern about the waiting lists is that some people just can’t wait that long. At SQ, we work with a lot of Ophthalmology departments, where patients who wait too long for treatment risk losing their sight.  Given my first-hand experience of working in a mental health ward, I am excited to be part of the team at SQ trying to tackle this problem across healthcare

It is important to talk about how you are feeling and seek professional advice if you are experiencing any of the following : 

  • Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety.
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability.
  • Extreme changes in moods.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping pattern.
There are some great support groups you can seek advice from and it is important to find what works for you.  There are of course many other places you can get the support you need. 
Meg Wheller
Media Marketer, Spatial Quotient