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Kaitlin overcomes anxiety to study Mental Health Nursing

Date 29.11.2021

A student is turning her personal battle with mental health into a mission to give back the same care she received during the most difficult periods of her life.

Mental Health Nursing student Kaitlin Shortland is a few months into her degree at the University of Northampton (UON), remarkably just a few years after not being able to leave her home.

Kaitlin, who comes from Bedford, starts her story: “I had always been an anxious child. People made me nervous and I always wanted to be in my comfort zone – I almost had a meltdown when things were changed.

“This continued for years although I was misdiagnosed as having a physical ailment. This resulted in a lot of frustration for both me and my parents, who are two of the most supportive and understanding people I have ever known.

“Things came to a head when I was about 15.  I was unable to leave the house at this point and was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, which resolved why I had persistent stomach upsets but no physical problems.

This came as a relief to Kaitlin and her family, although it’s only now she is able to talk with confidence about her mental health, thanks to her own mental health nurse.

She continues: “I was really struggling and was put under the Child and Adolescent Mental Health team. I distinctly remember how the mental health nurse who visited me at home made me feel everything would be OK and that we, together, would put Kaitlin before the diagnosis.

“They had everything planned but most of all I felt safe and, for the first time, that things were in order. I was facing the prospect of never leaving the four walls around me, never going back into education. Suddenly, the world opened up and my life could get going again.”

Flash forward four years and Kaitlin is fully settled into her UON degree, a course that is helping her fulfil her promise. She adds: “I never knew there were people like my mental health nurse who could help me and felt such relief after meeting them, but I knew soon after meeting them that I wanted to do the same for someone else.

“And here I am at university…and I love what I do! There are, of course, lots of news things to get used to, but the UON lecturers have been so captivating and are always there when you need them. During the pandemic they didn’t leave a stone unturned, something they continue to do.”

Kaitlin’s commitment to give excellent care has seen her won an inaugural award from her first clinical placement. Her placement was at St Andrew’s Healthcare and the Practice Education team there bestowed on her their first Mental Health Nursing Student of the Year award.

The award is in recognition of her showing exceptional clinical ability, for going the extra mile, having a can-do attitude and being particularly compassionate and caring during their placements.

Kaitlin said of the award: “I have got a real buzz from being at St. Andrew’s, when I see care through from start to finish. When notice of the award came in, it officially confirmed to that nursing is what I should be doing. My Mum was bursting with pride as were my Dad and siblings; they know I’m in a good place and turning a bad experience into something good.

“Sometimes, they talk to me about friends or colleagues they think are having mental health problems and I give them advice about things they can say and places they can direct people to. Once you open a family up to this side of life/wellbeing, it ripples out and they can all get involved in spreading the word about how we all need good mental health.”

Ged Rogers, Clinical Education Manager at St. Andrew’s Healthcare, said: “From day one, Kaitlin’s work has been of an extremely high standard. Her commitment, confidence and competence has made it very hard to believe that she is only a first year, second placement student nurse.

“Kaitlin has consistently shown care and compassion for our patients. She is highly reliable and puts herself forward at every opportunity so she can seek further experience, which she recognises expands her skills and knowledge.

“She will make an exceptional nurse as she listens intently and observes experienced staff before showcasing what she has learnt when carrying out her own duties. Not only does Kaitlin perform at a standard expected from a third year student she is polite, courteous and a pleasure to work with.”

Find out more about Kaitlin’s mental health recovery in this Youtube documentary film.

Find out more about the Mental Health Nursing degree at the University of Northampton.