In some ways it seems odd to me that, as societies and civilisations through the ages, we have contrived a separation between mental and physical states – as if the two can exist independently of each other. That such a view has persisted for generations explains in part the cultural separation between psychological and physical treatments within health and care systems around the world.
This mind set, if I may use this term, also points to a failure to properly acknowledge that mental impairment can lead people to make decisions leading to or worsening physical conditions, the mitigation of which would otherwise be more successful and sustained if sufficiently flagged.
It should surprise no one, least of all the nursing profession, that people with severe mental health problems have poorer physical health and die, on average, 15-20 years earlier than the general population. Without support that addresses both mind and body, they are likely to find it harder to access health and care services or indeed make healthier lifestyle choices.
Currently, it is by no means standard practice for mental health assessments to include analysis of a person’s physical health. And yet, without this more holistic approach, how can physical wellbeing be properly monitored and effective advice and support targeted to the individual?
This concern and motivation is driving the new resource for mental health nurses called ‘Improving the physical health of people with mental health problems: Actions for mental health nurses’ and is one to which I am very happy to lend my support.
Mental health nurses already have an acute understanding of the affect physical and environmental factors have on individuals – in both clinical and community settings. This new resource, combined with their specialist skills and knowledge, will support them to identify warning signs and other behaviours which could put a person’s physical health at risk.
I fervently hope this will be adopted by mental health nursing teams throughout the country. It is one of my enduring frustrations (as it must be for many health professionals) that regional variations in the quality of services - and the health inequalities they give rise to - persist.
This is not an issue exclusive to mental health of course, but one way to resolve it is to encourage the recording, evaluation and sharing of best practice within and between localities. This resource provides guidance on precisely this approach and also challenges nursing teams to actively seek the views of service users when developing care plans.
I believe this resource is another opportunity for nurses to empower themselves to assess and support the physical health needs of those living with mental health conditions. More than that, it provides a framework and impetus to share learning – not just within the nursing profession, but with other services and community networks.
We talk a lot about joined up thinking in the health and care system. This promotes joined up action and I look forward to seeing the results!