The Role of Nursing in Mental Health Care

There are many reasons why people experience mental health issues. Our article ‘Fear and Anxiety in the Time of Crisis’ notes that this can be from anxiety over the future or worrying about health issues. While there are ways to cope—like exercising or meditating—getting mental health care is the best option because it specifically targets certain issues.

When seeking mental health care, most people would automatically think of psychiatrists or therapists. However, you should consider nurses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines registered nurses as providers and coordinators of patient care. Given this general description, you wouldn’t consider them mental health care contributors. Yet the truth is that nurses are more capable than you think, and below are a few roles they play in mental health care.

Overview of increasing mental health care accessibility

Mental health care is inaccessible to many. A study by the University of Montana found that it’s a major barrier to mental health care. People living in rural areas—46 million according to the Economic Research Service—are most affected by this. Fortunately, telehealth enables people to receive mental health care even if there is a shortage of mental health professionals and services in their area.

This virtual means of healthcare access also allows professionals to practice across state lines, so the best mental health practitioners concentrated in states like Washington can share their expertise across the country. In particular, remote nurse practitioners operating in Washington are known for their training in psychiatric-mental health. This means they can conduct mental health assessments and remotely design treatment plans for patients. While nurse practitioners provide more direct care due to being able to diagnose and prescribe treatments, traditional nurses are also increasing access to mental health care in the following ways:

Detecting mental health struggles

Sometimes, people aren’t aware that they’re struggling mentally. They might perceive anxiety as everyday fears or depression as winter blues. Luckily, nurses can detect the early signs of mental health conditions. A school nurse from Ohio shares that they detect mental health issues in students when they come in with physical complaints attributed to certain conditions. For example, a student’s headache may be considered a sign of an anxiety attack.

It’s therefore clear that nurses are trained in keen observation and can immediately recognize what symptoms are related to mental health conditions. Despite not being mental health professionals, nurses play a role in early detection and can thus facilitate the immediate seeking of mental health care.

Enhancing patient experiences through symptom management

Mental health condition symptoms are uncomfortable. For depression, the most common symptoms are loss of interest in hobbies and weight changes. Coping with these is challenging for patients, but nurses can help them along the way. Research on mental health nurse consultants in America reveals depressed patients demonstrate a significant reduction in symptoms due to consultations. These nurses consult with fellow medical professionals to devise an effective treatment plan for mental health patients. Their skills in analyzing the best remedies to a patient’s concerns allow them to reduce mental health symptoms for better care.

Improving themselves to better care for mental health patients

Hospitals have seen a rise in adolescent mental health patients this year due to factors like stress and racial injustices. Unfortunately, there is a lack of mental health providers in general hospitals, leaving this issue to other health professionals like nurses. One pediatric nurse in California admitted that they did not have enough experience handling adolescent mental health issues in children.

However, she did highlight how they’re trying to improve their knowledge. This nurse surveyed fellow nurses in her area and found that they, too, are willing to learn mental health care to improve patient well-being. One solution she recommended was to increase their knowledge by using nursing toolkits provided in hospitals. These contain care guides for pediatric patients with suicidal ideation. Overall, this shows how nurses are eager to better themselves to help every patient, even those usually outside their expertise.

Receiving mental health care is crucial to improving a person’s overall well-being. Nurses contribute to the solution by increasing care accessibility, detecting mental health struggles, helping with symptom management, and improving themselves to provide better care.

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By Stacy Smith

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