The essay aims to emphasis the importance of mental health education as a generic skill for all nurses regardless of setting. There is increasing importance of mental health to the role of the general nurse due to the high incidences and prevalence of mental illness and also the link between the mind and body. One quarter of the world’s population suffer from mental and behavioural disorders at least once during their life (Lawrence et al 2001). A growing awareness of the impact of mental health problems has become evident in recent years and there is no denying that nurses within the general health care system will encounter and be required to provide care for people experiencing mental health problems. The main focus of this essay will be on both caring for the mental health patient within the general setting and the importance of mental health to the physically ill patient. Perhaps the best place to begin is to consider how mental health has been defined.

Mental health influences how we think and feel, about ourselves and others and how we interpret events (Basford and Slevin 2001). Haber et al (1992) believes that it affects our capacity to learn, to communicate, and to form and sustain relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events. Mental health may be central to all health and well being, because how we think and feel has a strong impact on physical health (Barker 2004). The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

“a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (WHO 2001).

Poor mental health and mental disorders are present at all ages, for both genders and in different cultures and population groups. Although mental health nurses are more likely than general nurses to be dealing with it, such disorders can influence an individual’s ability to recover from another illness and so knowledge of this area is relevant in all settings (Roche and Duffield 2007).

For instance according to the World Health Organisation every year the number of people reported to experience a mental health problem increases (WHO 2005). The WHO also predicts that mental illness will become a leading health problem, second to heart disease (WHO 2003). Many of these people experiencing mental health problems access general hospital settings but their condition is not always recognised (Roy-Byrne et al 2000). According to Happell and Platania-Plung (2005) the specific need of patients cannot be addressed if the illness itself is not identified. By virtue of their role nurses have the highest contact with patients and potentially play an important role in the detection of mental health problems and subsequent care (Sharrock and Happell 2000). Due to the close relationship nurses have with their patients, they are the main source of encouragement for proper self-care and educator on beneficial practices that promote mental heath, for example physical activity (Happell and Platania-Plung 2005). Paluska and Schwenk (2000) believe that physical activity appears to lower the level of depression and anxiety.

The shortage of mental health beds has led to mental health patients being diverted to general wards. The impact of this falls onto general nursing staff, who are not specially trained in dealing with these patients. Despite the fact that during their training general nurses are exposed to mental health and the subject is discussed at lengths, the realisation is that, as human beings everybody is individual and it is impossible to predict outcomes among certain groups (Davis et al 1997). However, the available literature also suggests that general nurses tend to place a higher priority on physical care than in mental health care (Roy-Byrne et al 2000) and do not have the adequate skills nor a understanding to meet the specific needs of a patient experiencing mental health problems (Sharrock and Happell 2000). Without the appropriate knowledge and understanding of the needs of patients with mental health problems segregation and avoidance can occur (Slevin and Sines 1996).

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The needs of patients with mental health problems cannot be met by standardised protocols, which can be easily learned and carried out to perfection (Brinn 2000). All nurses need to perceive themselves as being competent in caring, whether psychiatric or general trained. Working with this client group can elicit negative emotions such as fear, with which greater experience and understanding of mental health might provide a protective effect (Brinn 2000). Selvin and Sines (1996) found that nurse’s who had more experience in caring for patients with challenging behaviour, expressed increased positive attitudes towards them. Newly registered nurses who have been ...

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