Improving mental health nursing

New international research has cast a spotlight on the unmet physical health needs of patients with severe mental illnesses.

Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and high blood cholesterol levels are prevalent in people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar and other severe mental illnesses.

However, research published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing revealed that mental health nurses were not fully promoting physical wellbeing to their patients.

Led by Richard Gray from La Trobe’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, the research examined the views of a group of patients and nurses at inpatient and community mental health services in the Lothian region of Edinburgh, Scotland.

“While there is an increased awareness of the importance of promoting physical wellbeing to patients with severe mental illness, some nurses we interviewed do not believe it’s their job and that it is not a high priority,” Professor Gray said.

“Some mental health nurses also told us that they lack confidence and the right skills and knowledge to help patients improve their physical wellbeing.

Professor Gray said the patients also identified shortcomings.

“They believed nurses were too busy to meet their physical health needs, ignored the physical side effects of medication, had lower expectations of patients and tolerated their smoking.”

Other barriers to good health identified in the research included patients eating unhealthy hospital food and living on takeaway meals and a lack of motivation to change their patterns of behaviour in relation to diet, exercise and smoking.

The research concluded that there was a need for strong clinical leadership and additional training and supervision of nurses to improve mental health patients’ physical wellbeing.

“The World Health Organisation’s action plan for mental health calls for mental health patients to have better access to physical health care,” Professor Gray said.

“Mental health and physical heath is interlinked and all health professionals have a duty to improve mental health patients’ physical wellbeing.”

Media contact: Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464