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Keane Ryan

Paving a unique career pathway in Mental Health Nursing

Keane Ryan, originally from Letterkenny in Co Donegal was just seventeen years old when he embarked on the first steps of his mental health nursing career. Inspired by his father, who has been a mental health nurse for several years, Keane enrolled at ATU Donegal.

“I was naïve and innocent, coming straight from Leaving Certificate and I didn’t know what to expect. I really enjoyed the social aspect to university life and Letterkenny was a great place to socialise. In the early part of first year, I went on placement to a residential unit. The rewarding feeling of helping others instantly made me realise that I was on the correct career path”, says Keane.

Keane chose ATU Donegal as he wanted to study closer to home to allow him to lessen the financial burden that college life presents for parents and also to stand on his own two feet. During his studies he secured a part-time job with Bluebird Care that allowed him to get hands on experience in the world of Nursing.

The part-time job coupled with the programme work placements were providing Keane with invaluable experiences.

“I loved the programme because it was 50/50 theory and placement. I got to apply the theory that we we’re learning in class in a clinical setting. There was a variety of placements that give insight into the different roles and equipped me for the world of work. It was during these placements that I started to identify a gap and started to build the confidence to want to do something different.”

After graduation, Keane primarily worked in an acute psychiatric setting in Donegal Mental Health Services for six years. During these six years, he started to identify a gap in the service where people with mental health problems often suffered poor physical health.

“I began to see a pattern and when I started to look at the research I discovered that people who suffer from extreme mental health problems have a reduced life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. This is often due to poor lifestyle choices, smoking, alcohol abuse, medication and inclusivity. I wanted to close the gap and provide these people with the help they required to lead a healthier lifestyle”.

“Through my experience with service users and reading research, I noticed those experiencing mental health problems were at higher risk of physical health issues. It is a sad reality that those with severe mental illness have a substantially reduced life expectancy. This is caused by a variety of factors with some of these being very much influenced by lifestyle, such as smoking, substance misuse, sedentary behaviour and poor diet. I felt I could help close a gap for these people to support them to a lead a healthier lifestyle”

Keane has always been passionate about physical exercise and living a healthy lifestyle from a young edge. He grew up participating in a mixture of sports and in more recent years, Keane and his family competed on ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’. This passion and the want to close the gap in the mental health service saw Keane embark on the next step of his educational journey.

“The best thing about a degree in Nursing is that you get a science degree and that opens a world of opportunities. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you must stick to one career path. I wanted to do something unique”, encouraged Keane.

Keane undertook a ‘Masters in Exercise Physiology & its Application in Therapy’ at University of Galway. He worked full-time while completing the masters and travelled to classes in Galway on his days off. This shows the commitment and determination that Keane had to pave his way to a unique career that would inevitably provide a unique service to mental health service users. Keane is now a Clinical Nurse Specialist, Physical Health.

On completion of the masters, Keane put forward his plan and was delighted to secure funding from the Nursing & Midwifery Service Improvement Innovation Funding (NMPDU). He began working in a temporary role and took referrals from the Donegal Addiction Service. In the time that followed Keane secured additional funding and a permanent role was created for him. He now takes referrals Monday – Friday from all areas of the Donegal Mental Health Service and delivers lifestyle interventions.

“It was great to see my passion rewarded. I am constantly striving to change the perception of exercise. It doesn’t have to be extreme. I try to highlight that its about feeling good and doing what you enjoy, may it be cycling, walking, swimming, gym, dancing etc. Becoming more active is the focus and how it benefits mental and physical health”, says Keane.

The service has since won awards which Keane is very proud of including:

Irish Healthcare Centre Awards 2022 - won 2 awards.
Healthcare Initiative/Project - Mental Health Care
Healthcare Initiative/Project - Patient Education/Lifestyle Project of The Year

The ‘No Barriers Foundation’ have been a great support to the service allowing Keane and service users to use the ‘No Barriers Fitness’ gym in Letterkenny. This is a fantastic service that allows Keane to take people to the gym and do hands on interventions.

“I am happy in this role for now. It’s still developing and there’s scope to grow it and have a bigger team. It’s rewarding to see the positive results and seeing the improvements in people’s quality of life. The No Barriers Foundation provides a fantastic service because sometimes people with mental health problems don’t have the same opportunities and this provides them with that access. I am excited to see what the future holds for the service and to make it bigger and better. The priority is to make this service suitable for all those with mental health problems to provide support and assistance to live a healthier lifestyle”, concludes Keane.