How do you care for patients with psychiatric disorders?
Dressing physical wounds may be one thing, but tending to your patient’s mental health takes a whole new set of skills. Working with psychiatric patients can be especially challenging due to the wide range of mental illnesses and personalities you may face.
In this article, we will go over ways to help ensure you are doing the best practices to better assist patients with special psychiatric needs. The key points include:
- Mental illness is not a choice
- Self-care is important too
- Use your resources
- Keeping yourself safe
- You make a difference
- How do you advocate for patients with psychiatric disorders?
- Next steps
Mental illness is not a choice
When you’re on the brink of your 12th hour and a patient is berating you, it can be challenging to maintain your composure. Although these patients can be difficult, t’s important to remember that these patients are suffering from a real illness and deserve treatment.
No one with a mental illness chooses to suffer. Knowing this can help you maintain a sense of empathy and patience, even when it’s difficult.
Sometimes there is a stigma around being a psychiatric nurse. However, people often overlook that mental health is prevalent in the lives of all of us.
Self-care is important too
Caring for others can be physically and emotionally exhausting. That’s why it’s so important that you make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
In a time where burnout is prevalent, it’s also key to make sure you aren’t too hard on yourself and you just try your best!
Nurses are known for working long, grueling hours. It can be challenging to find time to do the things you enjoy. However, finding time to do something to unwind and give yourself a break can make all the difference.
Use your resources
Now more than ever, healthcare workers are being encouraged to take advantage of resources to help them. In most cases, your employer will offer resources and services to as a way to ensure their employees are able to do their best work.
There are also many additional resources available to help healthcare workers maintain a healthy headspace. Some organizations that have been established to help nurses are:
- American Holistic Nurses Association
- American Nurses Association (ANA)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
- National Academy of Medicine (NAM)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
At Incredible Health, we are also committed to making sure nurses have accessible resources as well. We have a wellness toolkit, that has features such as a daily nursing journal and a forum just for nurses to get support and advice. We also provide wellness tips to help combat stress, anxiety, and burnout.
Questions from the Incredible Health Nurse Community
- What is your best tip for dealing with a stressful situation at work?
- How do you deal with veteran nurses and doctors who look down, and degrade new grad nurses? Some of them are a little older so it’s hard for me to defend myself.
- I’m 43 and want a new career. Recently I was accepted into a 24 month RN program. Am I too old to start a nursing career?
- What exactly is the role of a nursing union?
- How do I make myself more marketable?
- I want to become a nurse manager in the future. Are there any books or resources I can read to help me learn?
Keeping yourself safe
Working with patients with psychiatric disorders means you must always expect the unexpected. Situations can escalate quickly and you or your patient can be at risk. So, it’s important to know the best practices of safe patient handling.
Here are some more tips from our very own psychiatric nurses:
Every workplace should have specific protocols in place in the event that a patient were to get violent. I worked in an outpatient mental health facility and if a patient was to behave erratically, we had the nurses, coaches, therapists and psychologists on-site for support and if not on site, then protocol was to contact the on call clinician and if none of that helped deescalate the situation, call 911 to have them sent to the hospital to get Baker acted. We did not restrain [patients] in the facility.
Setting clear physical and verbal boundaries is an important key. For example, say things like, “It’s inappropriate to speak like that,” and so on. Don’t use offensive language, don’t make sexual jokes.
You want open communication and an honest relationship with patients but if something doesn’t feel right, it may be time to reflect and figure out what it is that is making you uncomfortable so you can implement those boundaries. Don’t befriend on social media or exchange phone numbers or email. Also, don’t accept gifts – especially lavish ones.
If you need help setting boundaries, ask for support.
Erica Loor, RN
Violence does occur at times in the psychiatric setting. The first thing to always keep in mind is the safety of yourself, those around you, other patients, and the patient that is being violent themselves. Understand that there will be protocols in place wherever you go to deal with these situations and every psych nurse will likely have mandatory training for safety and crisis intervention.
You will not be alone! Use your resources in others, gain an understanding of what to do in those situations so you can be more prepared, and always be aware and ready for anything.
Key boundaries to set when working with psychiatric patients is primarily centered around safety as well. Do not share your personal address, details about yourself or your family you are not comfortable with strangers knowing, your personal cell phone number or social media.
You are there to care for them and although it can be difficult at times because you will form special bonds with certain patients, know that the professional therapeutic relationship is in the best interest of you and your patient.
Katie Padberg, RN
You make a difference
Sometimes, it’s easy to become frustrated as a nurse. However, it’s always a good tip to remember that you really do make a difference in the lives of your patients! Your patients put an exceptional amount of trust in you.
There is no doubt your care will make a difference in their lives. Just as nurses have many stories about patients that have impacted them, there are many patients who have the same sentiments for their nurses.
Acts of kindness and compassion can truly change someone’s life, especially when they are in a vulnerable emotional state. Use that power wisely. Your acts of kindness and compassion can be transformative.
How do you advocate for patients with psychiatric disorders?
If something doesn’t feel right, take action! People suffering from mental illness have often lost their ability to advocate for themselves.
Advocating for patients with psychiatric disorders can be something as simple as showing them empathy. Being an advocate for your patient can be done in a few different ways, such as:
- Listening to your patients: Many patients feel overlooked, so a great way to build rapport with your patients is simply by taking the time to listen to them!
- Updating the patient: Another way to help foster a trusting environment for your patients is to update them as often as you can. Keeping your patient and their family in the loop can really help ease tensions and offer relief to anxious patients about “what’s next”.
- Trusting your nursing instincts: More often than not you will notice if something is off with a patient before anyone else. Early detection of issues can make all the difference in a patient’s treatment and outcome.
Being a nurse takes many skill sets no matter what you specialize in. Whether or not you choose to pursue being a psychiatric nurse or another specialty, we’re here to help you in every step of your nursing journey!
Expert advice from nurses like you
*Contributor review credit of Erica Loor