Former Edge Hill nursing student Karen Vernon

The inspirational work of a former nursing student at Edge Hill University to help veterans talk more openly about mental health has been highlighted in a national award ceremony.  

Karen Vernon, from Southport, is on a mission to beat the stigma surrounding mental health care for veterans and has launched a campaign to raise more awareness about the issue. 

Karen, who graduated with a degree in Mental Health Nursing in March 2020, launched the ‘Are You A Veteran?’ social media campaign alongside fellow student Natalie Matthews to highlight the growing mental health issues facing veterans and connecting them to relevant support networks. 

Her efforts have been acknowledged by the highly coveted Student Nursing Times Awards (SNTAs), where she was shortlisted in two categories – the Most Inspirational Student Nurse of the Year and the Student Innovation in Practice. 

A mentor for a veteran charity, Karen said: “My family has deep roots in the Armed Forces, so I’ve had first-hand experience of the mental health issues that veterans can face with when they return home. Often, those who have served don’t feel comfortable to talk about their mental health because, for most of their career, they have been trained to man-up and feel that talking about their feelings could be perceived as a weakness. 

“As a result of this, many veterans can experience psychosocial episodes, which in the worst-case scenarios can force some on to the streets and to become jobless without a support network to help them. Through this campaign, we’re particularly interested in reaching the ‘hidden’ veterans, those individuals who are hard to reach and most reluctant to ask for help and, so far, we’ve received a fantastic response.” 

While at Edge Hill, Karen was a Student Quality Ambassador and was a leading figure in establishing the University’s first World Mental Health Day Conference in 2019. It was her efforts to launch the conference that inspired several of her peers to nominate her for the SNTAs’ Most Inspirational Student Nurse of the Year award. 

She added: “Encouraging people to talk about their mental health is something that I feel very strongly about and it was a wonderful opportunity to be involved in the launch of the conference and to be able to provide a platform to encourage more people to engage in these important conversations. 

“I was delighted to present at the conference alongside guest speakers from mental health charities, Mersey Care NHS Trust and other partners to talk about the issue and exchange knowledge and it’s something that I hope continues to be built upon in the future.” 

Soon after graduating, Karen joined the early intervention and psychosis team at Southport’s new state-of-the-art mental health facility, Hartley Hospital. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, Karen was temporarily redeployed to Clock View Hospital, in Liverpool, to work on their psychiatric intensive-care unit (PICU). 

Karen added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Now more than ever, it’s important that people feel supported to talk about how they are feeling and seek the help they need. It’s crucial that we can continue to campaign for greater awareness and support those most vulnerable in our society.” 

Find out more about the ‘Are You A Veteran?’ campaign here

Edge Hill University’s Faculty of Health, Social Care & Medicine is one of the largest providers of health and social care education in the North West of England. Click here to find out more about the range of nursing programmes available to study.