Mental health issues affect millions of families in the United States, and families struggling with the issue often have a hard time finding the right care to help tehir loved ones.
This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) focuses the spotlight on Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about the discrepancies minorities dealing with mental health issues face and the complex web those who care about them must navigate to get help.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the struggle of minorities living with a highly treatable, but often stigmatized illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health to achieve a balanced, healthy life, and the Office of Minority Health notes that mental illness impacts minorities at a greater rate than whites.
Minorities who live with mental illness often face barriers to care that, throughout the nation, can often prevent them from getting tratment of any kind. Depending on the community in which they live, access to high-quality mental health care can be hard to find. With the best teaching hospitals and clinics often located in big cities and psychiatrists and mental health counselors scattered throughout regions, gaining access to help is tough. According to NAMI, language barriers, cultural bias, and resources that don’t fill the need for care also get in the way of people getting essential treatment.
Even in the best situations—if someone has access to care and the insurance to pay for it—some minorities find a rigid cultural stigma against mental health issues. The stigma can be so complex and overwhelming, that it’s enough to keep someone from getting the help they need. If someone has the determination to find proper care, continuing with it can be a lonely struggle, so good support and follow through is especially necessary.
As a nurse, you can help in a couple of ways. With your direct, hands-on caregiving of patients, you can help assess if the patient might have mental health issues underlying their other health concerns. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Erratic or harmful behavior is an obvious warning sign, but more subtle signs can easily be brushed aside: a patient who comes in routinely for aches and pains but nothing is physically wrong, a new mom who mentions her struggle to care for her newborn, the young man who says he can’t sleep for days and then sleeps for three days in a row, or an elderly patient who feels a sense of hopelessness and loneliness after a health change.
All these smaller signs are red flags that something isn’t right and that your patient may be struggling with some form of mental illness. Because there are so many different types of mental illness and so much variation in severity, a front-line nurse can bring in the mental health team for an assessment. They can continue to advocate for the patients to understand the issues they are facing, whether it is lack of care, inability to access care, a cultural belief in mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, or family that is not supportive or understanding. Communicate what a kind of positive impact mental health treatment can have on their lives and well being.
Showing compassion for patients and a cultural understanding of why they may be reluctant to be diagnosed with a mental illness can have a lasting, positive impact on your patients as well. Let them know they are not alone and that your team can help them find help. They may still refuse, but an open attitude might bring them back.
Understanding the challenges of mental health care with minority populations is important. These complex issues can prevent someone with very treatable forms of things like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder from growing into a worse problem. Earlier treatment makes a big difference, helps people live better lives, and can prevent a mild form of illness from developing into a more complex and harder-to-treat condition.
Does it ever seem like you just don’t have enough time in a day? Lots of us feel this way and it’s no wonder. With jobs, school, families, friends, community, and other obligations pressing at us, it seems like having a few extra minutes is a dream.
Maybe it’s not about needing more hours in a day, but using the hours you have in a more productive way. Using time management skills is important no matter how you spend your days, and it’s incredibly easy to lose time on the most mundane and routine things.
Time management is like managing a household budget. You have a certain amount of something and you need to be as economical as possible. You time is valuable, so you might as well find ways to use it that make you feel good. How can you squeeze more time out of your day? Time management helps you get and stay on track.
1. Figure Out How You Spend Your Time
For a whole week if you can (or even a few days if you can’t do a whole week) try to record how you spend your time. You have 24 hours each and every day. What are you doing with them? Use your phone, a notebook, even your desktop to try to track your time. What do you do when you get home from work? How much time do you spend on things you don’t really get value from? If you love your hour on Facebook every night, that’s valuable to you. If your hour on Facebook leaves you feeling like you wasted time, you probably should pay attention to that feeling. The next time you log in, set a timer for 10 minutes and then log off.
2. Analyze Your Hours
Look at the hours you have jotted down and try to figure out where you are losing time. Do you spend more time commuting than you realized? Did you have unexpected trips to the grocery store because you ran out of lettuce? Do you end up spending much more time than you ever realized waiting for your kids?
3. Figure Out What You Want to Change
You might feel like you don’t have time to cook, so you grab take out on the way home. But if you take a look at the extra time it takes to stop for dinner, you might find you can re-adjust your food prep and actually save yourself time (and money) in the long run. A rotisserie chicken and bagged salad takes minutes to turn into a filling and healthy dinner and you can pick it up during your normal grocery run. Are you picking up prescriptions for family members three times a week? Do you have no time to exercise because everything else gets in the way?
4. List Your Priorities
Time management experts often say that when you don’t have time for something, it’s just not a priority for you. And while that comment can feel sharp, it’s often true. When people are too busy to exercise, they are often just pushing their own needs to the bottom of the list. Very likely, if your partner, spouse, kids, or another family member asked you to do something that might chew up that time, you’d probably say yes. What’s important to you?
5. Set and Keep a Schedule
Planners work for a reason—they really help you organize your time and make more efficient use of what you have. Writing down what needs to get done each and every day is a great start, but to be especially efficient, write down when you will do it as well. Catching up on bills? Block off 30 minutes. Driving to work? Time it over several days, so you know your average. Where can you schedule a 30-minute walk or yoga session?
Understanding how you spend your time now helps you figure out where you are wasting time. That 45 minutes you spend waiting for your kids to come home from a friend’s house so you can take them to chess club is valuable time. You could easily lose hours a week in chunks of wasted time like that. If you could catch on bills while you are waiting or organize your mail pile, you’ll have freed up some time elsewhere to enjoy on things that are important to you.
Alzheimer’s disease and other brain conditions and diseases continue to affect ever-greater numbers of people. And while scientists are making advances in treatments, the cure for these complex, devastating diseases is still uncertain.
But there are things you can do to protect your brain health. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to check in on your own self-care and also to see how your patients are taking care of their brain health. African Americans and Latinos bear greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than older whites, so it’s especially important for some minority populations to understand their increased risk.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is not a normal aging process that happens to everyone as they get older. People may have typical memory slips, but Alzheimer’s involves much more than just forgetting where you put your keys.
With early detection, Alzheimer’s treatment can begin earlier and hopefully slow the progression, but as of right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Learn the Signs
There are warning signs for Alzheimer’s that will let you know you, a loved one, or a patient is struggling with more than a little memory loss. While it’s normal aging to forget someone’s name, it’s not normal aging to forget who the person is. Other things to consider are disruptive mood changes (more than irritability about the dog walker being late), poor self care, and severe confusion about where they are or even what year it is.
Know How to Protect Your Brain
Experts say what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Take care of yourself by getting rest, eating nutritious foods, socializing with people you enjoy, staying hydrated, not smoking, drinking alcohol minimally, and keeping at a healthy weight and blood pressure. But there’s more you can also do. Keep your brain active. As a nurse, you’re days are hardly ever the same and that’s good for your brain. Check in with your patients to see if they are keeping their brains stimulated with anything from hobbies to social clubs to trying new puzzles, reading or listening to new books, or even listening to unfamiliar music.
Brain injury is serious and some of it is preventable. Wear a helmet while biking, skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading, for any extreme sports, or riding a motorcycle or ATV (and make sure family members and friends do the same). Always wear a seat belt in the car. Check your home for tripping dangers like loose carpets, items on the stairs, or things on the floors. Take care in winter weather for icy spots. Anything you can do to prevent brain injury is good for both your long-term and short-term brain health.
Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are a real health threat to all aging Americans, so you have a right to be concerned. But there are promising therapies on the horizon and there are things you can do now to help protect yourself as much as is possible. Spread the word about brain health and chat about it with your patients to pass along a few tips.
Patient safety is always a nurse’s top concern. Whether it’s the proper medication, a room free of potential trip hazards, or a safety checklist before procedures, nurses are on top of patient safety.
But what happens when your patients leave your care?
June is National Safety Month, so now is a great time to remind those in your care about how to stay safe at home. The National Safety Council has some excellent tips for everyone to remember this summer.
Here are a few things to go over before they go.
Who Is Helping Them?
Do your patients have home care set up? Will a paid worker, a neighbor, or a family member be available to help them when they get home? If not, see how you can work with your patient and the care team to make sure they have the level of care they will need.
How Safe Is the Living Area?
Try to tease out the details as much as you can to pass the information on to those who are helping discharge your patient. Do your patients go home to a place where there are working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors? Do they have a safety plan to get out? If they are living in an over 55 community, what is the town response to an emergency?
Do They Have a Plan?
If your patient is going home alone, is there someone who can check their home for things like tripping hazards? Do they have a plan for getting fresh, nutritious foods? They might qualify for services like Meals on Wheels. If not, you might alert them to meal or grocery delivery if it is available in their area. See if a faith or community organization might be able to provide a few meals as well.
Are They Set on Medications?
How will they take their medications? Are they clear on when and how to take each medication? Are there any foods, drinks, or other medications they should avoid while taking this regimen? See if they need a better explanation or if a caregiver can assist with timing the meds or even with a chart or a timed pill dispenser.
Do They Know Their Next Healthcare Steps?
Are your patients clear on what their follow-up plans are? Do they know if they need to see a specialist or their primary care provider? Ask a few questions to see if they really understand the instructions. If they seem confused, try to figure out where the sticking point is so they understand.
Nurses want patients to leave the hospital safely and to go into a safe environment. Taking a few minutes to see if patients and their caregivers can carryout the necessary care can go a long way to setting them on the road to recovery once they are out of your direct care.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of Nursing Assistants Week and brings with it a great time for healthcare teams to reflect on how all the members of a team help it run smoothly.
This year’s theme for National Nursing Assistants Week is “Specialists in the Art of Caring,” and the theme is one that resonates with nursing assistants. Nursing assistants are essential members of the team and often work especially closely with patients who are disabled or elderly and live in long-term care facilities or are in rehabilitation facilities. They often spend their days caring for patients who may have very limited mobility or have severe dementia or other conditions that may prevent them from performing tasks for themselves. The hands-on care they provide helps people feel better and also provides the comfort of companionship.
Many nursing assistants are so devoted to the caregiving role that they will become certified in their field. The National Association for Health Care Assistants is also joining in the celebration by honoring certified nursing assistants who have taken the extra step toward professional development and education to become certified.
With nearly 1.5 million nursing assistants in the national workforce, the field is one that is growing and in need of additional professionals. With a high school diploma, prospective nursing assistants can gain additional training and certification through many local sources including community colleges and often the Red Cross. Nursing assistants have a physically demanding workload. They frequently move people all day long and so have to be especially careful about proper movement, getting help instead of hoping they can lift or move someone, and using available equipment to assist them in the physical tasks of the job.
Despite the rigor of the typical day, nursing assistants are especially devoted to the people in their care and strive to give them understanding and dignity at a time when they are especially vulnerable. The conversations they provide, even if they are one-sided at times, are an important and uplifting part of a patient’s day. Conversations about everything from the day’s weather to the political state of countries half a world away to comparing family traditions, all help take care of the whole patient, not just their physical needs.
This week is a time to call out the nursing assistants in your organization or on your team to thank them for the caring job they are doing. They are an essential part of making a team run, and because of what they do, the licensed nurses and physicians are able to take care of the pressing medical needs of the patient better, knowing the patient is comfortable and their needs have been met.
Honor this important direct care role by saying thank you to the nursing assistants in your organization and by holding events throughout the week to let them feel appreciated. Flowers, gift cards, a surprise coffee and cake or unexpected refreshments for them, and signs marking the week help make the week special, but can also start some important conversations about the essential teamwork and high-quality caregiving that goes on thanks to this important role.