Mental health network

Celebrating our nurses: 40 years in mental health | Sean Duggan

Sean Duggan

2020 has been named the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization, in recognition of 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale. To celebrate this momentous year, and Mental Health Nurses’ Day on 21 February, we sat down with Mental Health Network chief executive, Sean Duggan, to reflect on his career as a mental health nurse. 

Why did you get into the healthcare profession?

I was very much influenced by my family: my father and mother were both mental health nurses and I have two elder sisters who were general nurses. I suppose the profession runs in the family. From a relatively young age, I was utterly focused on working in healthcare and I’m proud to have called it my career for the last 40 years.  

Why did you choose mental health nursing?

Throughout my childhood, I had a lot of experience of visiting my father’s hospital. I was fascinated by his work and inspired by the help he was able to give. We also had a family business that was a mental health residential recovery unit and the lessons I learned from visiting that were invaluable. So when it came to settling into a particular part of the sector, mental health very much felt like my home. 

Do you have a ‘stand out’ moment from your nursing career?

I couldn’t possibly pick one! There are several that have particular prominence when I look back. 

The first is when I was studying as a general nurse at King’s College. I worked on a baby unit where there were infants suffering complex liver disorders. I was so interested in the technological side of monitoring their treatment and the passion with which they were cared for. That feeling, of wanting to innovate, protect, and help families cope with extreme difficulty, has stayed with me throughout my career. 

The second was when I was a charge nurse in forensic psychiatry in London. I had the incredible opportunity to work with an internationally renowned clinical psychologist and two very well-known forensic psychiatrists. Working with these exceptional people gave me a front-row seat to the vanguard of mental health research and ignited my deep passion for delivering the best forensic mental health.

The final moment came much later in my career, where I had the pleasure of funding and implementing the programme to bring mental health community teams into prisons. This was a moment that brought together all my experience, my ambition to deliver innovation and my want to improve mental health services for one of the most underserved parts of our population. It was a moment I was truly proud of. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about becoming a nurse?

Dive into it headfirst. I would encourage everyone – my children, my grandchildren, friends and relatives – to take up the profession. It’s an incredible career with so many exciting opportunities and it is a pleasure to be able to change, and even save, people’s lives. I couldn’t count how many lives I’ve seen turn around over the years thanks to excellent mental health nurses. 

What do you see for the future of nursing and new nurses?

I think there’s a great future. We need to continue in the work to define the skills and unique attributes of a nurse in each of the sectors. There are, and always has been, great opportunities for nursing in management positions. And with the move to integrated care systems, nurses will play vital roles at all levels in developing new models of care. Nurses are at the heart of our healthcare system and they will remain there for many years to come. 

Sean Duggan is chief executive of the Mental Health Network. Follow him and the organisation on Twitter: @NHSConfed_MHN @SeanDugganMHN

To learn more about Mental Health Nurse Day, visit the website or support the campaign on Twitter. You can find more information on the Year of the Nurse and Midwife online.


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