June 12, 2024
Mental Health And The Role That Nurses Play In All Specialties

Modern healthcare professionals are fully appreciative of the need for patient-centered care. There is increased understanding that you can no longer focus solely on a diagnosis and a particular health condition. Instead, nurses, doctors and other health and social care personnel need to take a holistic approach to diagnosis and recovery.

This is especially true as mental and physical health are so closely entwined. You can’t separate themin most (if not all) patient care situations.How we ‘feel’ can impact on whether we fall ill in the first place, how willing we are to engage with treatment, and how well we recover.

Thismeans that nursing professionals in any clinical setting – from care homes to emergency medicine situations – must have the necessary insights and abilities to address mental health issues.

There is also a high demand for nurses who want to specialize in mental health diagnosis, treatment, and care.

Emotions, Lifestyle and Leading Health Issues

The need for nurses to be constantly aware of their patients’ emotional status doesn’t start at the diagnosis stage. There is now a great deal of awareness of the wide-ranging connection between behavioral and physical health.

People’s lifestyle and the decisions they makeon a daily basis have a crucial impact on their risk of falling ill. This includes anxious, stressed, or depressed individuals who rely on poor dietary choices, alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs to cope with everyday challenges.

To illustrate this, you only need to look at the biggest killer in the world: cardiovascular disease.According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol”.

It could be safely argued that making wise choices about your lifestyle and diet becomes easier if you have a positive mental attitude and emotional stability. We all tend to give in to temptation more easily if we are in a low mood or feeling anxious.

This also means that nursing professionals advising patients with lifestyle-related illnesses may well have to look at some of the underlying causes. This puts them in a good position to help their patients tackle some of their daily habits and risk-taking behaviors. A good example of this is a nurse advising a patient with respiratory issuesto stop smoking by first finding a better coping strategy for stress.

Not all lifestyle factors that impact on physical and mental health are as obvious as the ones already mentioned. For instance, working too many hours, or dealing with elderly relatives or special needs children, can start to erode a patient’s ability to recognize and respond to their own worsening health and wellbeing.

It’s just the sort of thing that a well-trained and experienced nurse may need to be able to spotand respond to in an appropriate manner.

Does Your Mental Attitude Impact Onrecovery?

Another of the main reasons why nurses must be constantly alerted to the emotional needs of their patientsis that a positive mental attitude goes a long way to supporting healing and recovery. There is a great deal of logic in the concept that good mental health can lead tobetter outcomes when engaging with treatments for physical illnesses and injuries.

We all feel more energized, ready to try new things, and optimistic about making a difference when our emotional and mental health are in a good place. If we are upset,feeling down, or distracted, even the smallest task can suddenly feel overwhelming and difficult.

A positive attitude will help a patient to focus on and complete any required treatments and therapies.It may even make them more attentive when a nurse or doctor is giving them important information.

Patients withgood mental health will also possibly be more willing to continue to engage with healthcare professionals whoare part of their care team, and they will act on any instructions with more determination than someone who is in a low mood.

Balanced emotions and good mental health could also lead to patients being more inclined to make any lifestyle changes and adjustments that their recovery demands. For example, it is easier to choose healthy foods and to embark on new exercise options when depression isn’t tempting you to comfort eat and curl up in bed all day.

There’s another side to this though. Feeling optimistic and engaged with your treatment regime could make you more likely to spot any issues that could interfere with your recovery. Patients may even feel more willing to alert professionals to any red flags, and ask for help, if they are feeling confident and positive.This all means that regardless ofyournursing specialty, you will need to not only recognize the importance of good mental health, but also find ways to support it.

This is one of the reasons whyemotional intelligence is such a vital attribute for anyone considering a career in nursing. Nursesneed to be ready to spot signs that someone is starting to get distressed or in despair. A nurse would then need to show empathy and compassion and guide the patient toward what they need to do to make progress.

This could involve issuing a few timely words of encouragement and support to keep a patient on track with their recovery.In other cases, nursing professionals would need to know when to recommend and request additional expert help for a patient whose mental health is holding them back in a serious way.

Taking Histories And Making A Diagnosis

As good mental health can play such a key part insuccessful and speedy recovery from illness and injury, nurses in many specialties need to learn the skills required to discuss the subject with patients in a meaningful way.

This can be a delicate balance. Nurses must have the ability and confidence to prepare comprehensive medical histories, and to gauge their patients’ current health status. Thiscan involve a series of vital questions that help them gather the right type and depth of information needed.

This is not just for an initial diagnosis either, as nursing professionals must also know how to monitor and measure progress against recovery goals, which can also involve strategic fact-finding and discussions with individual patients.

Some patients may be a little resistant to discussing their mental health, especially if they are presenting with a physical issue. However, nurses may need to work around that.

Clearly, this shows one of the main reasons whynursing professionals must have excellent communication skills, and a great deal of empathy and patience. They may well need to explain to a patient why certain questions are relevant, and tease information from a shy, embarrassed, or reluctant individual.They may also haveto gather some information from a patient’s family.

Nursing professionals also needexcellent non-verbal communication skills, and especially the ability to ‘read’ body language. For example, a patient constantly wringing their hands, twiddling with their hair or shuffling may say that they are calm and focused, but their non-verbal cues are saying the very opposite.

These are the sort of ‘soft skills’ that are taught in the best online nursing school programs, such as Elmhurst University’s online accelerated nursing programs. In these programs, you can be assured of both professional and personal development opportunities. This will then help you to gain all the necessary skills and knowledge for nursing.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to any patient situation, especially when it comes to the complexities of human emotions. Therefore, nursing professionals must also develop great agility and problem-solving skills to match the mental and physical health needs of every individual patient.

Patients With Unspoken Mental Health Issues

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),more than one in five adults in the US are living with some form of mental illness. Approximately one in 25 involves complex or substantial issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.

It is hard to be accurate with statistics such as these, as many mental health issues go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, partly as people don’t seek out the help that they need to make a diagnosis and start treatment. If someone is reluctant to be transparent – or unaware of their own health problem – it may be up to a nurse to uncover what is going on.

In some situations, noting down symptoms, and taking down patient histories using the standard questions that nurses need to ask their patients, may still not be enough to reveal crucial information about a patient’s mental health.

There is also a need for nurses to be constantly alert to general well-being issues, as patients who present with physical symptomsmay in fact have mental health concerns and problems.In some cases, the patient may not even be honest with themselves about the underlying cause of their difficulties and may approach a healthcare provider with an unrelated issue, or a physical symptom of the emotional difficulties.Signs of self-harming can be the perfect illustration of this.

There is also the chance that a patient comes to a clinic or hospital complaining of ‘phantom’ pain,injury, or illness, too embarrassed or reluctant to admit what is really bothering them.This may be particularly true of men, who historically find it difficult to discuss their mental health and ask for help with emotional imbalance. Could the patient complaining of poor energy, disrupted sleep or constant headaches be suffering from a common mental health issue and be too ‘proud’ to admit it?

The Physical Symptoms Of Our Mental State

Mention has already been made of some of the signs of a negative mental and emotional state. Anxiety, depression, and trauma can all make it harder to get to sleep, and stay asleep, for example.Therefore, nurses sometimes need to be ready to gently coax out of patients what their state of mind isto get to the root cause of insomnia.

Stress can also lead to headaches. Thisis due to the hormones that stress releases – neurotransmitters – working to constrictand then dilate blood vessels in the brain.A patient’s migraines may therefore be a result of their mental health rather thana biological issue.

Poor mental health can also start to manifest as other physical symptoms. For example, general aches and pains may indicate that someone is holding themselves rigid or in uncomfortable positionsdue to feeling emotionally tense.

Physical inflammation can sometimes be a side effect of stress and trauma. This is due to the complex and highly responsive way that your body’s natural defense systems work. If your immune function senses that you are under some sort of threat – including a traumatic event or period of intense anxiety – it triggers chemical messengers that travel across your whole body. These messengers include the hormone cortisone, which travels to your muscles, glands and organs to prepare for if you need to run away or ‘fight’, for example. Sometimes, you can experience an overproduction of those chemical messengers, which results in low-grade inflammation.

You can also find yourself more at risk from disease when low mood and lack of sleep impact on your immune system.All of these things are on the list of signs and symptoms that nurses need to be trained to look for.

Poor Mental Health And Chronic Illnesses

This is possibly the most obvious connection between mental and physical health that nursing professionals must be alert to. If someone is suffering from a chronic or particularly unpleasant illness, theycould also then have a low mood, anxiety, or depression.

The same applies if a patient has sustained a bad injury. This could be life-changing, such as a new disability or significant scarring. Or the injury could be one requiring a long period of recovery and rehabilitation that seriously disrupts the patient’s plans and lifestyle.

In fact, poor mental health can become a risk factor in many physical health situations – not least as pain thresholds can vary from person to person, as can our ability to cope with setbacks, upsets, and significant changes of plan.

Nurses must be ready to deal with patients’ temporary frustration, distress, and unwillingness to co-operate.They also need to be ready to spot the signs of more long-term mental health issues, such as when a patient is starting to ‘give up’ on their own recovery or is becoming depressed about their illness.

Nurses would then take an empathetic and compassionate approach to all patients with a medical need, without being judgmental,if even a minor physical problem causes a patient to be upset and fearful.

Addictions And Their Health Repercussions

One of the many fields of healthcare where physical and mental issues collide and combine is substance dependency.

This is certainly where you tend to see examples of issuesalready mentioned in this article, namely patients who present with physical conditionsthat are in fact a direct result of their mental health needs – for instance, poor liver function can result from alcoholism.

Alcohol and drugs can become a way for some people to self-medicate during a mental or physical health crisis; or they are a coping strategy for someone who has a health and welfare need that has been left unaddressed.Trained and experienced nurses (even those who don’t specialize in addiction support) may well need to be alert to when patients abuse alcohol or consume prescription or other drugs inappropriately.

Nurses and Their Own Mental Health

It is important that nurses invest in monitoring and maintaining their own mental health. For many, nursing is a deeply fulfilling and rewarding career, and it is also a universally respected and trusted profession. However, nurses are often dealing with patients who are facing a crisis, or who are in pain, scared and in distress.

Some nurses deal with fragile newborns, while others provideend-of-life care. Then, of course, there are trauma and emergency care nurses, who can face literal life or death decisions.This can put nursing professionals under tremendous pressure, and it could start to take a toll on their mental health.

Therefore, nursing professionals in all specialties and settings need to be aware of their own emotional status and take steps to protect their own mental health. This includes maintaining a good work-life balance, and investing in plenty of activities that make them feel positive, relaxed, and calm. By doing this, professional nurses can then feel ready and able to cope with other people’s physical and mental health issues in a calm, compassionate and measured way.