Life inside a high-security psychiatric unit

Rebecca Sherriff has been working as the nurse unit manager at Yaralla for two years.

Running one of the most challenging mental health units in the country requires a special team of dedicated doctors and nurses.

And that’s exactly what you will find at Cumberland Hospital’s Yaralla specialist adult unit with high dependency capacity.

Rebecca Sherriff has been the Yaralla nurse unit manager for more than two years, following a distinguished career in mental health across western Sydney.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else other than nursing and in particular mental health nursing, for me, it’s just everything,” she said.

Her journey has been shaped not only by her passion and commitment but by her own experience caring for a loved one with a mental illness.

In November, 2017, her mum, who was also a nurse, passed away from cancer.

For years Rebecca’s mum battled depression and her daughter was there to help when help was needed most.

“For all the struggles that she went through, she would have to have been the strongest person that I ever knew,” she said.

The experience shaped Rebecca’s life and career.

“She was a very strong woman and she was a nurse, so I think that impacted on me and my career choices and I saw her passion for what she did,” Rebecca said.

“She will always be such a strong influence in everything that I do.”

Rebecca and her mum Annie Matthews enjoying a Hugh Jackman concert together.

That has led to the post she now occupies, managing the Yaralla unit.

Yaralla is generally for inpatients aged between 18 and 65, for both males and females, who need treatment in a closed, secure unit.

Patients are nursed with increased nurse to patient ratios and have staff with them at all times.

At night, every ten minutes, nursing staff are doing rounds and checking on the patients.

“We have patients who are often at their most unwell point in their lives and they need to be able to know that there are people around them that no matter what happens,” she said.

Yaralla helps those who are the most acutely unwell, who have had a significant mental health trauma and are possibly a risk of harm to themselves and others and who need close supervision and monitoring.

“When I’m here I want to be able to show them that someone is actively invested in being able to get them the care that they need and to give them hope,” Rebecca said.

“And that’s what these nurses do amazingly well, my nurses just have an amazing ability for being able to have early identification of risk with patients and being able to get in there and talk to patients.”