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Arkansas State University

Caring for Patients With Mental Health Problems

A nurse’s duty is to administer holistic care and that may include addressing a patient’s mental state. Not all registered nurses are prepared in psychiatric nursing, but they still have a responsibility to provide care for mentally ill patients and help them obtain treatment for psychological distress.

What Are Some Ways Nurses Can Help Mentally Ill Patients?

Nurses are prepared in an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program to deliver patient care. They may decide to specialize in a field of medicine like pediatrics, geriatrics or oncology.

Regardless of their specialty, nurses may deal with patients who are either showing signs of or are at risk of developing mental illness. Patients with mental illness can display a wide range of symptoms, including despondency, aggression or violence.

Nurses have to be aware that an unsociable, sullen or troublesome patient may be exhibiting signs of mental illness. A patient with mental illness may require nurses to adopt the following strategy:

  • Assess a patient’s mental state.
  • Establish good communication with the patient.
  • Build a relationship with the patient.
  • Use language that shows consideration.
  • Provide sensitive patient-centered care.
  • Consult with knowledgeable mental health professionals.
  • Refer a patient to community services.

Why Should Nurses Dig Deeper to Uncover Reasons for Mental Instability?

Patients with mental health issues are often seen as difficult. Nurses should not judge a patient because of the patient’s behavior; instead, they need to provide care in a respectful manner. Sometimes trauma and chronic health conditions can trigger depression or anxiety. In some cases, diseases or medications are the reasons for the appearance of mental distress.

For example, patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disorders or side effects from beta blockers can have symptoms that mimic depression. Stress can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls mood and emotions, and it regulates bodily functions such as digestion, the immune system and energy expenditure.

What Are the Various Mental Illnesses Nurses May See in Patients?

A wide variety of disorders fall under the umbrella of mental illness, and these range from mild to severe. People with mental illness suffer from disturbances in their thoughts and behavior, which may affect their ability to cope with ordinary life situations and obligations.

Mental illness can be caused by traumatic experiences that involve abuse, neglect or violence. Other factors may include genetic predisposition, biochemical imbalances or excessive stress brought on by debilitating medical conditions. Nurses may come in contact with patients who have these mental illnesses:

  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Major depression.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Panic disorder.
  • Personality disorders.
  • Phobias.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Schizophrenia.

What Is the Rate of Mental Illness in the U.S.?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults experiences some type of mental illness each year, which translates to 43.8 million people or 18.5 percent of the population.

Additionally, approximately one in 25 adults lives with serious mental illness, which converts to 10 million people or 4.2 percent of the population. This kind of mental illness interferes with or limits the person’s ability to function in everyday activities.

How Can Nurses Become Advocates for Patients with Mental Illness?

Because nurses work directly with patients, they are the best source of information for implementing a system to care for the physically and mentally ill. They can advocate and influence the development of new policies for more funding so patients have access to affordable, ongoing care that provides them with the therapy and medications they need to manage and live with mental illness.

Nurses have a great impact on the attitude of patients. If they show compassion while delivering quality care, they can help improve the chances of a successful patient outcome. The nursing practice focuses on supporting the overall well-being of patients and that includes their mental health. Nurses should continue their education to learn more about identifying mental illness in patients and how to help them get the psychiatric care they need. With assistance and empathy from nurses, patients can overcome the stigma associated with mental illness.

Learn more about the Arkansas State online RN to BSN program.

Sources: There’s More to Her Than Mental Illness

HealthTimes: How Nurses Can Care for the Mental Health of People With Chronic Disease

National Alliance on Mental Illness: Mental Health by the Numbers Treating the Mind: Part I on Mental Illness

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