How to Handle Mental Health Patients
Terri Polick | NursingLink
About Clinical Depression
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems people face, and a condition any nurse should be familiar with. According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is the most common mental disorder, and the CDC reports that one in 30 Americans meet the criteria for major depression. It’s also been estimated that 80% of depressed people do not seek treatment, making it even more important that nurses be on the alert for signs of depression in patients.
It’s normal for anyone to feel down when they are sick, but physical illnesses can trigger depressive episodes in patients with a history of clinical depression. The signs and symptoms of depression are varied, but can include persistent physical symptoms such as stomachaches, indigestion, constant headaches, and difficulty breathing.
These patients commonly ask for medications that are ineffective. Watch for changes in behavior and be alarmed if a distraught, depressed patient suddenly looks serene. The patient’s tranquility could be signaling that they have decided to take their own life. Many nurses tell me that they are afraid of saying the wrong thing around suicidal patients but my advice is to listen your gut. The only thing you can do wrong is not ask your patient pointblank if they are suicidal.
Another challenge nurses face when dealing with mental health patients, is caring for people who are suffering from hallucinations and paranoid delusions. Nothing is more unsettling than walking into a patient’s room and seeing them respond to internal stimuli. Their eyes track in empty space, they have inappropriate laughter, and they talk to whoever or whatever they are seeing. Auditory hallucinations are even trickier. Voices can be benign, or they could be telling your patient to hurt themselves or others.
Don’t be afraid to ask your patient what’s going on, and then report your findings to the physician. Medications frequently need to be readjusted, especially if your patient is under stress. Giving good nursing care to mental health patients depends on your powers of observation as well as your other nursing skills.