Clinical Nurse Specialist shares his journey from unemployed in Britain to mental health nurse in NZ

Nursing was initially a way of “getting off the dole” for an unemployed man in 1980s Britain.

More than three decades later, Mike Connolly is still in the profession and working as a mental health nurse at Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

The Clinical Nurse Specialist at the DHB’s Consult Liaison Mental Health Services says when his friend suggested nursing back in the 80s, his first reaction was to laugh.

“I said, ‘Nurse?’ But I’m not a girl! I had never considered it as a job, I grew up in a staunch, working class part of Northern England."

Since graduating in England, nursing has taken Mr Connolly to Fiji and then Aotearoa where he has worked at the DHB for 21 years.

“My job is to look after the mental health needs of people in the general hospital,” Mr Connolly says.

“A lot of people with physical illness have a higher incidence of mental illness, especially those with chronic illness such as asthma,” he explains.

Mr Connolly’s role firstly is to assess patients who have been referred, and work out where they are on the scale, from: “a bit unhappy” to “mentally ill”.

“Sometimes life is challenging, but that doesn’t mean you have got a mental illness. The specialism is being able to differentiate those things.”

Treatment for those who are mentally unwell can include medication, psychotherapy, counselling or lifestyle changes.

“I usually promote a combination of all three,” he says.

“I always say, ‘Do most of what you enjoy and less of what gets you down,’ but people forget that.”

Working in Fiji as a volunteer mental health nurse was a career highlight, he says.

“The most rewarding part of the career is making a difference to people’s lives and wellbeing, and getting to meet some really amazing people that you wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

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