Not long after Christchurch-based mental health nurse and addiction worker Claire Gilbert took up a position managing a clinic for women with addictions, she identified that most of the women also experienced a range of other psychological disorders – with anxiety disorders highly prevalent. Yet little was known about the impact of anxiety disorder on the mental health of people coping with addictions and, sometimes, other disorders as well.
In 2003 Claire enrolled part-time in the distance-taught Postgraduate Certificate in Health Sciences while juggling full-time work and parenting. The certificate led to a diploma and, in 2007, a master’s degree.
With her background, Claire was particularly interested in the co-existing mental health problems (CEP) people with addictions experience and the treatment they receive.
She undertook a research project canvassing the New Zealand addiction workforce to investigate the practices of addiction workers in addressing CEP with people engaged in addiction treatment. The results indicated a need for addiction workers to incorporate inquiry about CEP during a comprehensive assessment.
Throughout her studies Claire appreciated the integration of clinical and academic learning, and found this enabled the practical application of her learning.
“The course was based around clinical work, so it was applicable and it helped me use my workplace for clinical learning. The lecturers were also readily available and promoted discussion, and they showed flexibility with deadlines – they really considered the realworld stresses that exist on students.”
Claire reflects that distance study requires skills, such as time management, which have proved helpful in other areas of her life. These ensure she makes time in her day to have fun and share time with her children. She acknowledges that asking for help from both friends and lecturers was essential.
“You start to realise you don’t have all the time in the world. You have to be more efficient and you also have to make sure you retain a work/life balance. There are times when you knuckle down, but you also learn to catch those moments with family and friends.”