China / Society

Nurses treat mentally ill with grace

By Xinhua (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-12 07:20

Though China's Mental Health Law, which took effect in May 2013, raised the profile of patients with mental illnesses, few in the country are as familiar with their daily struggles as the nurses who care for them.

On Monday, nurses at the Beijing Anding Hospital will observe International Nurses Day along with their peers worldwide. Nurses at the hospital treat the mentally ill, a high-pressure career that requires specialized skills. Though mental health nursing has not always offered the recognition or career development of other health fields, the nurses say the job gives them access to life stories that often go unheard.

Liu Yulian has worked at the hospital for 29 years and is head nurse of the third inpatient area, where about 60 patients with schizophrenia are being treated.

At the end of last year, Liu was slapped in the face by a patient who insisted on being accompanied by family in violation of hospital rules. The head nurse said nothing.

A young nurse later came over to Liu and said, "How can you make it seem as if nothing happened this morning?"

Liu responded that the patient would not have behaved that way if she didn't have a mental illness.

For Liu, showing the young nurses to have compassion for their patients is as important as teaching them about safety procedures.

"I got the position by chance and didn't have much fun at the very beginning," Liu said. "After years of work, I began to love what I do very much because this experience has inspired and influenced my outlook on life and the world."

An Fengrong, director of the nursing department, began working at the hospital after graduation in 1985.

An worked as a nurse in the wards until 2011, and she still keeps in touch with some of her former patients.

She once treated a college student with anorexia nervosa who weighed less than 40 kg. To ensure the woman's normal food intake, An had to "fight a battle of wits and courage" with the patient to prevent her from hiding meals.

The patient was discharged from the hospital after a period of careful treatment.

"I feel warm each time I receive greetings from her, she's so grateful," An said.

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