Mental illness is a major health condition affecting millions of American families. With no regard to education, age, class, family, ethnicity, or gender, mental illness can impact anyone’s life and often has widespread effects.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and helps spread the word about the higher risk of mental illness in minorities own lives and the real barriers minorities face to receiving timely, high-quality, and accessible care.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), rates of mental illness impact minority communities in greater numbers. Culturally, many minority communities have a greater stigma associated with mental illness, so people have a hard time speaking up or admitting they need help. If they do decide to get help, the barriers for finding high-quality, accessible, and affordable care can be insurmountable.
As a result, nurses might routinely see patients who have symptoms of mental illness but won’t address it. Most of these conditions are treatable with the right help, so it’s important to let patients know about available resources or even that what they are feeling is a true biological illness, not something that they can just get over or take care of on their own.
The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic offer these indicators that might signal something more serious than a passing phase. Experiencing one or two of these symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but if symptoms are interfering with someone’s ability to perform their normal functions, take care of themselves, work capably, or hold meaningful relationships, then they need to get help.
What are some signs and symptoms to look for?
- Feeling sad, down, or hopeless
- Excessive anger or an inability to cope with stress
- Anxiety, feelings of guilt
- Withdrawing from social activities, friends, family
- An inability to keep up with grades or normal work quality
- Sleeping too much or an inability to sleep
- Eating too much or too little
- Extreme mood changes – highs and lows that are beyond average
- Increased or troublesome use of drugs and alcohol
- Feelings of being disconnected or experiencing delusions
- Thoughts of suicide
Many people experience sadness or mood changes throughout their lives. A bad day at work can make you grouchy, and family problems can make you sad and anxious. But lingering problems with these feelings and those that impact daily life need attention.
Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms in your patients and listen to the ways they might express them. If they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else, immediate help is necessary, so call 911 or get your emergency team to respond immediately.
Above all, reassure your patients that, like any other medical illness, mental illness is something that is treatable and nothing they are at fault for. A little compassion can make a huge impact.
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.
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.
With a constantly evolving healthcare environment in the US, patients and their advocates have become concerned about their ability to access the drugs and medications they need. Pfizer has been offering assistance programs to help eligible patients gain access to the company’s medications for over 30 years. Their current Pfizer RxPathways program connects patients to more than 90 Pfizer medications for free or reduced prices.
To remind patients of the benefits available to them, Pfizer has posted company announcements on their social networks. The Pfizer RxPathways program has been put in place to connect eligible patients with a full range of assistance programs including insurance support, co-payment assistance, and free or discounted medications. Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo says,
“We’ve launched a national digital ads campaign to raise awareness of the support options we offer. We want to reassure Hispanic patients that, despite any changes in public health care policy, Pfizer is here to help them access their medications.”
From 2012 to 2016, Pfizer assisted over 1.6 million patients in receiving Pfizer prescription drugs for free or reduced costs. Patients can contact the call center to speak with Spanish-trained counselors who will address their individual needs and guide them to the appropriate programs and resources. Castillo is standing by her belief that, “Everyone deserves access to quality health care, and medicines are among the most powerful tools for curing, treating and preventing illness and disability in patients.”
To learn more about Pfizer’s RxPathways program, visit here.
There are lots of health tips that men and women can both benefit from. Getting enough sleep and exercise and eating a well-balanced diet are some good all-around health tips everyone can use. But the genders have some pretty diverse health challenges. For example, did you know men die, on average, five years sooner than women?
Whether you are a man looking into your own health concerns or a woman with men in her life, Men’s Health Week (June 12 to 18) is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year and comes right in the middle of Men’s Health Month. If you’re a nurse and a man, use this opportunity to talk to your male patients about the specific health problems men face and what to do to help prevent them or cope with them.
How can men make sure they are doing the best they can for their own health? Here are some pointers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and MensHealthMonth.org.
One of the best ways to stay healthy is to get regular screenings for diseases and conditions that can be detected and therefore treated, early. Get an annual checkup so you can stay on top of your blood sugar levels, your weight, your cholesterol, and your blood pressure. Get a colonoscopy if you’re past age 50— earlier if you have a family history of colon cancer or if you have certain conditions that could increase your risk. Be sure a prostate screening is part of your annual exam and examine your testicles at least every month to notice any changes or lumps and bumps. Check your skin regularly for new moles or those that seem to have changed size, shape, or color. If you notice any unusual changes on your body, bring it to the attention of your physician.
Play Hard, But Play Safe
Whatever your interest—biking, running, flying, rock climbing—make sure you practice basic safety rules. Use proper protective gear and equipment. If you’re swimming, go with someone. If you’re hiking or camping, let people know where you’ll be. Bring along extra provisions and proper weather gear. Basic safety considerations can go a long way toward keeping you healthy.
Men tend to let their social relationships slide when life gets busy. With work and family obligations, it’s tough to carve out time with friends. But social connections and solid friendships can help ward off many health problems including depression, heart disease, and even dementia.
Make Healthy Choices
All the basic health tips hold true because they work. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and plant proteins. Ease up on meats, cheeses, butter, fried foods, and treats like full-fat ice cream. Get daily or near-daily exercise. Get enough sleep. Keep your vaccines up to date. Use protection during sex. Don’t smoke anything, ever. Drink alcohol in moderation. Wear sunscreen. Protect your heart health (and keep inflammation down) by keeping your stress under control. Find help for your stress if you can’t manage it on your own.
Wear Blue to Start the Conversation
The Friday before Father’s Day is traditionally a Wear Blue Day, when anyone concerned about men’s health can wear blue clothing or blue ribbon pins to show support of Men’s Health Month. You can also give a shout out on social media with #MensHealthMonth or #ShowUsYourBlue.
Spread the word about men’s health during the month of June. You never know what kind of lasting impact a few words of wisdom might have,