New chapter for mental health education

Feb 9 2018

Simon Swinson and Professor Mike Hazelton

A ground-breaking resource has woven together the experience of practitioner and patient to craft a learning tool for students entering the field of mental health.

Co-authored by University of Newcastle (UON) Professor of Mental Health Nursing, Mike Hazelton, alongside UON graduate Simon Swinson, Contemporary Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing is written through the eyes of those dealing first-hand with the consequences of mental illness.

Mr Swinson, who lives with schizophrenia, said he was keen to contribute to the unique publication in an attempt to debunk stereotypes and help create a new generation of mental health professionals.

“Writing the chapters with Mike was really important to me as it got my story out there. In some ways it’s quite a painful story, but it serves a purpose and that is to give students a realistic understanding of psychiatric disability.

“It’s certainly better to have real-life stories than anything contributed by an academic who may not have any exposure to the condition,” Mr Swinson explained.

Having experienced a painful childhood, symptoms began presenting themselves when Mr Swinson was around 22. With no understanding of why he was suffering a change in his behaviour, his daily life was transformed, with new challenges including sleep deprivation and weight gain.

“People assume with schizophrenia that you hear voices and that you are totally dysfunctional, which is not at all true. I can struggle with social isolation as I find it hard to share my story, but I’ve also found the process of talking very healing over the years,” he said.

An accomplished student himself, Mr Swinson graduated from a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) majoring in French with the University Medal in 2008. The pair first made contact when Professor Hazelton attended a lecture he was giving on understanding schizophrenia.

Professor Hazelton, who has over 30 years’ experience in mental health education, said it was imperative those suffering from these conditions were included in the rhetoric around dealing with mental health issues.

“What makes this text unique and innovative is that almost every chapter has been co-authored by a mental health nurse or health professional, and a person with lived experience of mental illness.

“I hope my work with Simon has given new insight into psychiatric conditions, as I believe it adds an invaluable personal account to our work,” he said.

With second year Bachelor of Nursing students already implementing the text in UON classrooms, Professor Hazelton said he was thrilled to have found a new way to contribute student learning.

“Simon’s account ensures the information presented in the book properly articulates the intricacies of the disorders discussed.

“I truly believe this is a game-changer in terms of how professional texts ought to be written, to ensure those entering the field have a well-rounded and realistic understanding of the impact these conditions can have,” Professor Hazelton said.

For Simon Swinson, his involvement is another step in the healing process as well as a way of giving a unique insight into his world.

“I am honoured to be part of the process and what I hope is that students listen and take my words as a very serious, real experience that contributes to their learning,” he added.