Daryle Deering (nee Evans), the eldest of two children, was born in 1950 and brought up in Christchurch. She considers her mother’s experience with depression to have influenced her decision to become a psychiatric nurse. When she was eighteen, Daryle began working at Sunnyside Hospital in Christchurch. She recalls that the people in her nursing class were ‘a collection of really interesting people’, including a poet and an ex-motor cycle gang member. The gender ratio in the class was even, although Daryle remembers that psychiatric nursing was an unusual career choice for young women in the 1960s.
Daryle began work on the geriatric ward immediately, and recalls wondering ‘what on earth I had got myself into’. She only knew about mental illness from what she had read, so her hands-on training was ‘very much a step up’. Daryle recalls having to face new things, including people with no belongings or privacy and ‘almost a herding type aspect to life which I found quite disturbing’. However, she was curious about mental health, ‘and I think my curiosity was enormously helpful’. She remembers that at the time she began her training Margaret Bazley (Matron) and Edwin Hall (Medical Superintendent) were implementing a number of changes, and that this is probably what convinced her to remain there. ‘They changed the whole face of what happened in the hospital’ by bringing in a more compassionate, caring environment and integrating the male and female units. Daryle did have classroom education as well as hands-on experience – she remembers learning anatomy and physiology, classification of mental illness, and managing therapeutic environments – but it was an apprentice-typed job so most of the teaching was on the job.
There were separate units at Sunnyside for various categories of patients such as geriatrics, intellectually disabled, and people with acute psychiatric illness. The adolescent unit included people who had a mixture of behavioural and other problems. Daryle recalls quite a lot of ECT [electro convulsive therapy] used in those days, and she saw ‘incredible results’ for some people. The ward programmes were run collectively rather than for individual care, and included group therapy and work programmes. The students had quite a lot of responsibility, and Daryle remembers that although many students struggled, ‘if you found your way, you could find people from whom you could learn’. A lot of her learning related to managing unpredictable behaviour and de-escalating it, ‘being able to manage that was quite important’. The nursing students got to known the domestic and cooking staff well: ‘there were hierarchies but also a sense of being in it together’. She recalls that everyone felt proud of being a part of the developments in the treatment of mental illness at the time, and that the hospital was ‘very much a community’.
Daryle remembers growing up very quickly during her training, having good friends and a lot of fun in the Nurses’ Home. She recalls holidays with other students, going out after duty and ‘having great long philosophical discussions in the middle of the night’. Most staff smoked, ‘people’s lives were in some ways structured by smoking’. Daryle remembers the smoke in the wards causing a ‘haze’. She found life in the Nurses’ Home was ‘very social’. Initially, there was a fairly high level of supervision but later the students moved into accommodation with more autonomy, and then were allowed to go flatting.
Daryle got married during her training in 1972 and believes she was influenced by social norms about marrying young. After she graduated, she remained at Sunnyside for a while before transferring to Christchurch Hospital in 1973 to do general nursing training. She found Christchurch Preliminary School ‘rather peculiar’. It was much more hierarchical than psychiatric nursing, and Daryle and a psychiatric nursing friend ‘felt much older’ than the rest of the students who were school-leavers. Daryle considers general training was of great benefit to her as a mental health nurse: ‘I got my understanding of the importance of physical health’ and that psychiatric nursing was not just about mental health. After graduating from Christchurch Hospital, she stayed to work on the paediatric wards, which she says was a lot of responsibility.
Daryle left Christchurch Hospital in 1976 because of rigours of night shift, and moved to Calvary Psychiatric Clinic, a private hospital. Calvary had a very good reputation, and employed general and psychiatric nurses as well as having a system of trained volunteers. Daryle recalls feeling that she ‘had to go away [from Sunnyside] to see there were different ways of working with people’. At Calvary, she learned greater therapeutic skills and ways of being with people.
In 1979, Daryle began working as a counsellor at the Alcohol Assessment Centre for the North Canterbury Hospital Board. She says this was an ‘enormous learning curve’ as she had more autonomy, and learned different therapeutic skills. The Centre had close links with Community Mental Health Teams, which were new at the time.
Daryle worked her way up through drug and alcohol services in Christchurch, becoming the Coordinator in 1988, Acting Head in 1991, and Manager of the Christchurch (Regional) Alcohol and Drug Service, Canterbury Area Health Board, from 1991 to 1993. She completed her BA in Nursing and Psychology in 1990. Daryle moved to Youth and Family Mental Health Services in 1993 during the health reforms when alcohol and drug treatment began to shift back to its original hospital settings. She believed that hospitals ‘did not have a similar underpinning value or philosophy of community-based treatment’. Daryle later moved to work for the National Addictions Centre in University of Otago’s Department of Psychological Medicine in Christchurch. Once there, she transferred her studies to Otago where she completed a Masters in Health Science. While still in her academic position, Daryle was appointed part-time as Director of Nursing (Mental Health) for the Canterbury District Health Board. In this role, she worked to establish a nursing leadership structure. She noted that there were no senior nurses ‘at the top (management) table’. She considers the lack of nurses at that level was not good for recruitment, role modelling, or professional development. While her job titles have varied over her career, Daryle says she always maintained her identity as a mental health nurse.
During her career, Daryle has been active in industrial and professional nursing organisations. Influenced by her father, a strong unionist, she believes that without unions you don’t get adequate employment. She also has believes that nurses need a strong professional voice. She has been a member of the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation throughout her career and is also a member of Te Ao Maramatanga, the New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses. At the time of her interview, Daryle was President of the College. She considers her career to have taught her a lot about people, and she has always had an interest in aspects of service development, social justice and empowerment. She feels that these align with the core values of mental health nursing which are about ‘walking alongside people’.
This link will take you to the abstract summarising the full interview with Daryle Deering: