Mental health: support for at risk patients
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge effect worldwide, on mental health.
Seemingly never-ending lockdowns, ever-harsher restrictions, social isolation, periods of quarantine and the general uncertainty of living in a world with COVID-19 have all taken a huge toll on our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing– generating a different kind of “pandemic”
With crisis support and suicide prevention charity Lifeline reporting that Australians are reaching out for help in record numbers, it’s clear that this is not only a physical pandemic, but a psychological one – and the number of people suffering from anxiety, panic disorders and depression is still on the rise as we continue to battle the global health disaster.
Understanding the signs
Whether in person or via telehealth, healthcare professionals are in the privileged position of spending close, one-on-one time with patients in a safe, caring and nurturing space, where trust and support are cultivated. As such, we may be in a position to notice if a person’s psychological wellbeing takes a turn for the worse.
“As practitioners, we need to be mindful of our duty of care to our patients that we consider at risk of self-harm or suicide,” explains AACMA president Waveny Holland. For this reason, it can be extremely useful to be aware of the warning signs of suicide, says Waveny, as this can potentially lead to early intervention – and it may just save a life.
According to mental health support organisation Beyond Blue, there are many non-verbal and verbal clues to look out for that could indicate someone is having a hard time. They may hint at feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or loneliness; they may be quick to anger or show a persistent lower mood than normal; they may cite insomnia or changed eating habits; and they may even speak about their own death or wanting to die. (Please note, this list is not exhaustive. Visit BeyondBlue.org.au for more information.) Keep an eye and an ear out for signs like these, and if your patient doesn’t seem their usual self, check in with them about their mental health.
How we can help
Knowing what to say to and ask a person who is feeling this way is an important tool for practitioners to have, as it can help the person feel as though they are being listened to and understood, says Waveny. But sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly which words to choose.
Acknowledging the distress that they are feeling, as well as discussing with your patient the importance of seeking further help and support they may need, is crucial – and while friends and family are undoubtedly an essential part of a person’s road to recovery, the importance of reaching out for professional help can’t be overstated.
People suffering from depression and anxiety often feel very isolated, but explaining the benefits of building a good support team (which could be family members, friends, their doctor or a combination of people) to help them cope and heal can help to let your patient know that they are not alone. With your patient's knowledge and approval, contacting any one of these support people – especially their doctor – fulfils your responsibility and duty of care if you suspect that they are at risk.
Looking for further ideas around how you can help patients struggling with mental health issues? Community support groups such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline provide free and confidential national crisis and counselling helplines 24/7.