Our Nurses Stories - Colman Pyne


Colman started his training as a mental health nurse in Limerick, Ireland in 1984 and qualified in 1987. He worked as a staff nurse for Ealing forensic mental health services in London and, energised by this area of mental health and seeking wider experience, he spread his wings and worked in staff nurse roles in Australia and New Zealand for two years before returning to Ealing where he stayed until 2003. In those years he gained further experience in forensic, prison mental health and child and adolescent mental health service and rose up the ranks to become deputy director of nursing. After Ealing he took a short hop across London to become assistant clinical director for the North London Forensic Service before retiring from that role in 2020 and joining NHSP.  

It all started…

…when I developed an interest in mental health as a child, following a situation involving a neighbour, and then started to consider a career in this area. Mental health nursing seemed like a really good prospect to me and I think I always wanted to care for those less well off in our society. I remember leaving my job on a building site one Friday afternoon and then entering an old-style psychiatric hospital on a Monday morning - a very strange and unusual world. At first I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice, but I soon settled in and began to realise that I really liked working in this area.

I remember…

…my first staff nurse job was in forensic services which of course meant working with individuals who often experienced difficulties related to violence and aggression. It’s important to understand that, in general, people with mental health problems are no more likely to behave violently than any other person. However, forensic services provide treatment and recovery services for those that do, therefore the development-set for any mental health practitioner in this area involves good de-escalation skills, understanding of psychoses and other conditions and positive engagement. 

There were a number of challenges in this area that I had to learn to work with and sometimes this could be scary, but I always felt supported. Working with good role models helped enormously in terms of my development as a mental health nurse in this area. The biggest reward was often in the form of seeing a life positively transformed over time, from distressing auditory hallucinations, for example, to sustainable wellness. In the world of mental health, the rewards manifest themselves somewhat differently to a surgical environment, but they certainly are there and are such an important aspect of a nursing career in this area. A career in mental health services may be many things, but it’s never dull!

Compassion means…

…managing our own prejudices and preconceptions and stepping onto a more positive engagement platform with individuals so as to bring about a healing change. It emphasises positive regard for those experiencing difficulty, whatever that might look like. It’s about respect and willingness to reach out to the experience of another in a non-judgemental manner. 

Over the years I have worked in mental health services, I have witnessed a great deal of judgement and stigma in relation to mental health and the damage this can do – for example, conferring a second-class citizen status and the associated hopelessness and disengagement for service users. It is so good to see this changing in recent years through positive campaigning, promoting the value of lived-experience and via excellent role modelling, but we have a journey yet to travel and I think that compassion is such an essential fundamental building-block. Without compassion, what is nursing? I don’t think I can overstate its importance.

I was compassionate…

…when I have advocated for somebody in difficult or misunderstood circumstances. I think about the care of a very unwell patient in a seclusion room environment or accompanying someone to a local cafe and the need to maintain a positive, humane approach at all times.

It can be challenging sometimes because we are not automatons! We have feelings and stressors and I have been no exception. Clinical supervision, mentoring and support have been key to learning and development in this respect. It’s so vital that we all have that space for growth and development.

I saw compassion…

…when I worked with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in my last role and I was always so impressed with the caring, compassionate and non-judgemental approach of nurses in this environment with regards to repeated, persistent self-harm. CAMHS inpatient units can be such challenging environments but I can bring to mind one particular care assistant who I nominated for a staff award as she just seemed to keep engaging so positively with a particularly unwell individual over many months. That young person later wrote a beautiful review of his time at that unit and singled her out for particular praise.

What I’ve learnt over the years

The journey never ends.
The learning is mostly in the doing.
The act of discussing with another or others both develops and regulates.