How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

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.

 

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

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.

5 Steps to Squeeze More Time Out of the Day

5 Steps to Squeeze More Time Out of the Day

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.

Protect Your Brain Health Now

Protect Your Brain Health Now

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.

Be Safe

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.

Use Men’s Health Month as a Springboard for Good Choices

Use Men’s Health Month as a Springboard for Good Choices

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.

Get Screenings

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.

Be Social

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,

A Nurse’s Summer Bucket List

A Nurse’s Summer Bucket List

Summertime brings thoughts of slower days, languid days at the beach, and vacations filled with sunshine. Nurses don’t always get to match the ideal vision of a lazy summer, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t take advantage of this fleeting time of year.

Here are a few simple things to add to your summer 2017 bucket list..

Treat Your Feet

Your feet take a pounding – literally. Pamper them with a reflexology appointment, a pedicure, or just a good soak in bubbly warm water. Slather on peppermint foot lotion you stash in the fridge for extra relief. Spritz a cooling spray on your legs (make your own with water and essential oils). A barefoot walk on a sandy beach can also make your feet feel terrific.

Relax Your Neck

Your neck and shoulders probably feel like steel and nearly frozen in place with all the movement your day requires. Buy a heat pack you can warm up in the microwave or make your own with a long sock and some unhulled barley that you can pick up at the supermarket. At the end of a long day, it’s instant relaxation.

Be a Goof

Summer is made for letting loose a little. Skip with your kids, build a sandcastle at the beach, or rent kayaks and splash in the water for the day. Draw with sidewalk chalk. Have a picnic and bring hula hoops and a football to toss around.

Get Extra Sleep

A siesta is always refreshing and the restful effects can last for days. If you can spend extra time in bed in the morning or can hit the sheets a little earlier, you’ll boost your attention span, your mood, and your overall health.

Learn to Unwind

Nurses are never really off the job, so it’s sometimes tough to really relax. On those hot and humid days, grab a book or pop in some music and head to a cool spot. Be still and quiet and appreciate how different it feels from your typical work day.

Eat Seasonally

Summertime food is special. Juicy fruits and plentiful veggies in all hues are at every corner farmer’s market. Pasta salads, potato salads, fresh salsa, and cold soups taste even better eaten outside. A flaming-hot grill waiting for all kinds of seafood, meats, and veggies (even watermelon can be grilled) can keep your kitchen cool and inspire you to try lighter foods. Take advantage of the bounty of summertime. And whenever you can, eat alfresco.

Get Outside

Don’t let the season go by without enjoying some quality time outdoors. Take a beach yoga class, walk with your friends or by yourself, take in an outdoor concert, watch fireworks, learn a new bike path, try a new swimming hole, or climb a mountain. Whatever you do, just being free of four walls is refreshing and inspiring.

What’s on your summer bucket list?