11 ways nurses can care for patients during mental health crises

When you think about mental health nurses, don’t just think about the nurses treating psychiatric patients in a hospital setting. Mental health nurses provide care in various locations, including hospitals, clinics, prisons, schools, and universities.

Mental health issues may have a variety of underlying causes. For many, the root cause is likely to be a complex mix of elements, with some factors having a more profound effect than others for specific individuals.

This article will explore mental health conditions and how nurses can assist.

What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems are issues that people experience on a day-to-day basis. These include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and personality disorders to name a few.

Though mental health problems aren’t always easy to spot or recognize when they occur, they can significantly impact an individual’s life. Often when an individual has a problem with their mental health, it is linked to their moods or feelings. These feelings can, in turn, relate to particular events or difficult circumstances in their life.

What causes mental health problems?

This section will cover some of the leading causes of mental health problems.

  • Long-term stress

Chronic stress often comes on unexpectedly and may occur because of unpredictable changes in life circumstances. Long-term stress may cause further mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, by disrupting the healthy functioning of areas of the brain that support emotional regulation.

Brain systems involved in emotional regulation include the right prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. These brain systems function as a network to control emotion and the effects of stress in response to events.

The normal function of the neural circuits is to regulate emotional responses when positive or negative emotions arise from events within our environment. Positive emotions activate action in the prefrontal cortex, thus suppressing activity in the amygdala.

  • Childhood abuse

The effects of abuse on children can have a long-term impact that manifest with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), relationship difficulties, and other related issues. To provide appropriate care for victims of childhood abuse, professionals must understand the causes of such conditions so they may best treat those around them.

Children who experience domestic violence in the home or sexual assault are often left with one or several types of PTSD from their childhood experiences.

This syndrome is characterized by symptoms such as re-experiencing the trauma, avoidance of reminders, and humiliating memories. Reexperiencing the trauma caused by childhood abuse can lead to nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, and difficulty concentrating in school or at work.

  • Social isolation

Social isolation hurts both physical and psychological health. There are many reasons why an individual may choose or be forced into social isolation such as rejection, public humiliation, betrayal, and extreme loneliness.

Socially isolated people often develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Social problems also cause physical health issues, including heart disease, asthma, and poor health. This is because when a person experiences a lot of rejection, their brain releases cortisol, making it harder for their body to recover from stress. Over time, this can cause inflammation, leading to poor long-term physical health.

People who experience a lot of social isolation tend to have an increased risk for mental health problems, which can also lead to poor physical health.

  • Experiencing discrimination and stigma

Discrimination and stigma can make people feel isolated from the world around them, so they experience mental health problems in response. Naturally, being treated unkindly by others makes people feel anxious and stressed, leading to depression or an anxiety disorder.

Living with either of these disorders is challenging, but it is much more difficult for individuals who don’t have support from others or are continuously stigmatized for having the illness.

Discrimination and stigma can present in many ways, from bad experiences with a stranger to being unfairly judged by a loved one.

Furthermore, when other people play into the stigma surrounding mental health, this can lead to discrimination in the workplace, where colleagues and managers assume, belittle, or downgrade an individual solely based on their perceived mental health disorder.

This is often true when an individual has a mental disorder such as depression, as they will become stigmatized by the belief that they are incapable of doing certain things, such as holding a job or even just having fun.

  • Social disadvantage

Social disadvantage is a large and significant predictor in explaining both the individual level and aggregate rates of suicide, depression, and other life derailments, as well as global trends in suicide, depression, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Social isolation, social inequality, and social exclusion are closely linked to this phenomenon.

Social isolation and stress related to social inequality may cause a loss of purpose, leading to further emotional instability, including depression. Social inequality is linked to social disadvantage, evidenced by the cycles of poverty and social exclusion, which propagate through generations.

Social exclusion results in feelings of isolation, which lead to depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. Social disadvantage causes well-being issues in children that lead to attention deficit and its association with depression, anxiety, addiction, and even crime.

These individuals are more likely to have mental health issues and more likely to become substance abusers or engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live in better-off neighborhoods.

  • Bereavement

Losing a loved one can result in a wide range of mental health problems. Regardless of how long ago the loss was, losing someone close is always complex and can lead to depression, anxiety, trauma, and suicide. The length of time since the loss can sometimes matter. People grieving typically have more mental health issues than those who have already had time to recover from the loss.

  • Drug and alcohol misuse

Drug and alcohol misuse is a serious and prevalent issue that people struggle with daily. Younger children and teens are the most vulnerable to becoming addicted or abusing substances and drugs.

The use of drugs can lead to serious mental health problems in younger children. These include mood swings, depression, thoughts of suicide, behavioral changes, and possible psychosis.

Drug usage can cause an individual’s brain to change due to the toxins present. Some drugs may be especially harmful to children or underaged teens due to their biological and physical differences compared to mature individuals.

Even young children regularly exposed to drug use can develop a psychological dependence on such substances.

What nurses can do to care for these patients

These are some things nurses do to care for their patients during mental health crises.

  • Partner with individuals to achieve recovery goals

Most mental health nurses aim to provide a safe and supportive environment where patients feel free to discuss their problems. The nurse assesses the situation, attempts to establish rapport with the patient, listens attentively, and responds appropriately.

This allows them to think deeply about their concerns while discussing possible solutions. The ultimate goal is for patients to gain insight into their distress, develop coping mechanisms, re-establish effective relationships with family members or friends, and return home when ready for discharge.

  • Provide health promotion and maintenance

Providing health care and promoting maintenance is the bread and butter of nursing. Nurses are the providers of routine health maintenance care, such as immunizations and screenings, which may be aimed at preventing disease or reducing its impact.

They are simultaneously partners in promoting health by encouraging patients to make healthy lifestyle choices and managing chronic illness.

The goal for nurses here is to help people live a good life with a healthy body that rarely falls ill. When a person has a positive relationship with their nurse, they will enjoy these benefits.

When nurses promote healthy living and maintenance care, they prevent people from becoming sick and manage disease that are already present. This reduces or eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming hospitalizations.

  • Conduct intake screening

Conducting intake screening is a process designed to assess the adequacy of treatment procedures and other factors in an individual’s care. This process typically occurs in an emergency room. It is essential for those who may have a psychological disorder but are not yet aware of it or willing to admit it.

Simply put, this screening checks whether the person has experienced any suicidal thoughts recently. If necessary, this measure will also evaluate the patient’s current treatments and the availability of backup therapies such as psychotherapy.

Most of all, screening tests if all the necessities for patient care are working correctly. This effectively minimizes the chance of inflicting further problems on the patient and the people around them.

  • Provide case management

Providing case management in a healthcare setting differs from the criminal standard in that it assists those charged with crimes related to mental health.

It allows people charged with addiction-related crimes to access the help they need while still upholding the law. Nurses can help people find resources for long-term treatment and recovery and provide support throughout their stay in jail or hospital.

Most people who need case management to help deal with their mental health issues can join a program. However, some people faced with mental health-related prosecution don’t qualify for these programs. These are people who are considered dangerous to themselves or others, as well as those that have violent or sexual crimes and those that have an active restraining order against them.

  • Teach self-care activities

Self-care is an integral part of nursing practice. Nursing schools explore anxiety and stress, including the effects of coping skills.

Teaching self-care activities is what nurses can do to care for their patients during mental health crises. Various strategies help people cope with and reduce stress, including deep breathing, distraction techniques, exercise, and relaxing activities such as listening to music or reading a favorite book.

Mental health and nursing care providers should encourage patients to use these relaxation techniques to cope with stress.

  • Administer and monitor psychobiological treatment regimens

Nurses administer and monitor psychobiological treatment regimens as part of the overall care they provide to their patients. Psychobiological disorders such as bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can require various treatments that need constant monitoring by family members or caregivers.

In many cases, the treatment regimen may consist of medication management and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing how the patient thinks about and behaves. The goal is to reduce anxiety or depression symptoms for a better quality of life.

  • Practice crisis intervention and stabilization

Practicing crisis intervention and stabilization is a nursing specialty that substitutes the traditional caregiving of patients experiencing a mental health crisis. These unstable moments in life can be an emergency or chronic condition and often require the skills of a nurse in addition to those of other mental health professionals.

The nurse has strengths such as human empathy, as well as the usual extensive training with psychoactive medication and a basic understanding of human biology. They will collaborate with medical personnel to provide assessment and intervention for these individuals during their time of need.

  • Engage in psychiatric rehabilitation and intervention

Engaging in psychiatric rehabilitation and intervention is part of caring for someone during a mental health crisis. During this step, nurses are in charge of keeping patients safe and comfortable. Furthermore, nurses can provide a calming environment, offer comfort, and help people figure out what will happen next. The nurses’ role here is about caring for a patient’s needs as they transition through rehab. They can do this at home or in a hospital setting which usually involves medications, counseling, and other treatments to help the individual function in society again. This differs from traditional mental healthcare because it occurs outside structured practices like psychiatric wards or units within general hospitals.

  • Educate patients, families, and communities

Nurses work in hospitals and long-term care facilities to provide direct patient care, education, and support services for their patients as well as their families. Nurses have a unique role in counseling and support of the bereaved.

Nursing education at the collegiate level prepares students to practice in many different settings, which allows nurses to make a difference in the lives of patients, families, and communities. This also applies to nursing leadership positions and the role of a nurse consultant. Having completed a course like the MSN-FNP program offered by Carson-Newman University, nurse consultants can utilize their knowledge and work in different areas to enhance processes, produce better patient outcomes, and provide legal advice.

For nurses to effectively provide the most appropriate care for patients and families, they must first understand them. Healthcare should be addressed as an individual and family concern, not just an illness-prevention program.

Historically, as healthcare became more specialized, nurses became more focused on treating individuals with specific diseases or conditions. Nurses began identifying individual needs based on a disease or outcome rather than focusing on the whole person. A holistic approach that works with patients, families, and the whole community is an excellent alternative to this that can provide a great deal of assistance during a mental health crisis.

  • Coordinate care

Coordinating care is the process nurses use to care for their patients during mental health crises. Careful coordination of guard posts, staffing levels, and the type of staff on duty can significantly impact the level and quality of care provided.

Many tasks must be performed during coordinated care, such as bedside assessment, treatment planning, visitor safety management, general staffing, and staffing assessment. To ensure both patient and caregiver safety, nurses must be able to perform the necessary tasks at all times by having a cohesive team available.

A considerable part of coordinating care is ensuring that nurses prepare and are ready for their shifts. It should be a seamless transition for patients and staff.

Ultimately, many patients are screened in the hospital and need careful coordination to ensure their safety.

  • Work within interdisciplinary teams

Working within interdisciplinary teams offers additional perspective to any situation. If a patient enters the emergency room with a broken arm, the nurse will order the correct scans and know precisely where to place the cast to ensure the bone doesn’t shift. The surgical nurse can place stitches and keep up with post-op care of any surgery-related injury.

Similarly, the psychiatric nurse will know how to calm and prepare patients for their stay in a locked unit.

All roles in this system are critical, but this is only possible because they are all brought together under one roof through education, collaboration, and peer support.

Final thoughts

Nurses can do a lot to help patients during a mental health crisis. They can even educate patients about the symptoms of mental illness so that they know when to tell their physician.

These professionals can also help patients with anxiety through many methods, such as using coping skills or teaching them relaxation techniques. They can assess a patient who might be having a mental health crisis and then provide the comfort, care, and support they need.

By taking these measures, nurses can help their patients to successfully navigate a mental health crisis and work towards a more positive outlook.

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