Awareness of mental health conditions is growing across the country. This increase in awareness can only be a good thing for mental healthcare, which, for a long time, was both overlooked and misunderstood. Having the knowledge and skills needed to address and treat patients suffering from mental health conditions is just as important as increased awareness, however. Addressing mental health conditions is not only the responsibility of healthcare practitioners but also of the family and community involved with a patient’s mental healthcare.
Now more than ever, family and community play a vital role in mental healthcare. Families and communities shape their members, influencing development. Individuals base their behaviours and habits on that influence. It therefore makes sense that families and communities should have greater involvement with patients in need of help for their mental health conditions.
How families and communities support mental health care
First, families or communities should understand or be educated on the basics of mental health. There is a wide range of mental health conditions, from common disorders such as anxiety and depression to more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A family or community needs to know and understand the nuances of mental health conditions.
Another great way to provide support is by learning how to recognise early signs of illness. Families and communities are often in a good position to notice changes in behaviour, cognition, or mood. By noticing the telltale signs early on, they can enable more timely intervention and more effective treatment.
Nurturing a safe environment built on empathy, trust, and open communication is an integral part of how families and communities can support mental healthcare. It is important that they listen without judgement and express care and understanding. Along with providing reassurance, these are essential components of providing effective family and community support. Furthermore, it is crucial for families and communities supporting a patient’s mental healthcare to have the right tools and resources.
How nurses facilitate family and community support
Nurses are in a prime position to engage families and communities in supporting mental healthcare. From more basic functions such as providing information to more specialised interventions such as family therapy, the role nurses play in facilitating family and community engagement is wide and far-reaching.
A nurse could take on the role of an educator, for example. By providing information, dispelling myths and misconceptions about mental illness, and teaching about relapse warning signs, a nurse can help families and communities better understand mental illness. This can enable them to better empathise with the patient and help them recognise the warning signs.
As well as educating families and communities on the needs of their loved ones, nurses can also provide support to those families and communities. Nurses know more than most that caregiving is a rewarding but demanding role. A nurse’s knowledge of the demands of caregiving means they are uniquely positioned to provide support to family members and communities tasked with caring for a person with mental illness.
For nurses to best establish the needs of both the patient and the family or community they are a part of, some form of assessment is needed. The assessment determines the services that are needed, along with the level of monitoring and care required. This kind of support is helpful for families or communities with complex dynamics.
While all nurses are well placed to engage families and communities in supporting a patient’s mental health care, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) specialise in the services and support that would be most effective in addressing mental health conditions.
What does a PMHNP do?
PMHNPs are highly educated and skilled healthcare providers who make a significant, positive impact on millions of people’s lives.
PMHNPs treat mental health conditions by assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients. Prescribing medication, providing individual and group therapy, and delivering emergency psychiatric care are also part of a PMHNP’s responsibilities. They keep medical records of patient visits and progress, collaborate in developing individualised, holistic treatment plans for patients, and deliver patient education.
PMHNPs work in a wide variety of settings. While many PMHNPs work in outpatient healthcare settings, clinics, and private practises, they also treat patients in residential substance abuse facilities, schools, nursing homes, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
A doctor of nursing practice for PMHNPs
With an idea of how nurses can facilitate family and community involvement in mental healthcare, some individuals might be interested in the career opportunities for those with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) working in psychiatric mental health.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for nurse practitioners is around $120,000. Besides an attractive salary, demand for nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 40% between 2021 and 2031. This increase is much faster than the average for all occupations, which means it is a good time to consider becoming a PMHNP in the coming years.
Baylor University’s online DNP-PMHNP programme prepares nurses to meet their career goals and provide excellent care in less than four years. Baylor’s DNP program offers clinical placement assistance and 100% online coursework, granting students the flexibility needed to complete the program at their own pace and in their own time. US News & World Report ranks the programme in the top 10% for the best DNP nursing school.
More engagement is the key
This article has explored how families and communities can be more involved in the mental healthcare of patients and loved ones, including how PMHNPs can facilitate it. Education on mental health conditions, support for families or communities providing care, and assessments are all essential tools for nurses when providing effective treatment for mental health. The demand for PMHNPs is growing. Anyone considering a career in psychiatric mental healthcare can truly make a difference by beginning their education today.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.