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Calls for nurses and midwives to be upskilled in mental health

Australian College of Mental Health Nurses chief e
Photo: Australian College of Mental Health Nurses chief executive Kim Ryan
An Australian nursing leader has called for nurses and midwives to be upskilled through mental health education, in a bid to better identify, manage and care for people with mental health issues.

Australian College of Mental Health Nurses (ACMHN) chief executive Kim Ryan said all nurses and midwives, as the frontline of the nation’s healthcare, must be capable and confident of being able to provide care for people with mental health issues that fall within their scope of practice.

“It shouldn’t matter where people enter or exit the healthcare system, if their mental health conditions are associated with their health concern, the nurse or midwife should be cognisant of the fact that those things exist and that they do have some associated responsibility,” she said.
“When I say to nurses that myocardial infarct is associated with a markedly increased risk of suicide – whether the person has a mental health history or not, particularly in the first year after the heart attack, and with the risk remaining high for at least five years, people are quite surprised by that.

“If we turn around and say that about 18 per cent of women are affected by depression during pregnancy and 13-19 per cent after birth, people are surprised by those statistics, because many of those women won’t come into contact with a mental health service - they will go undiagnosed or they will go untreated,” she said.

“If cancer nurses understand that depression and anxiety, which are common in people with cancer, are associated with reduced quality of life, poor adherence to cancer treatment and self-care, impaired physical, social, and family functioning, worse symptoms, diminished will to live and higher mortality – then that becomes important for the work that they do, not just the domain of the mental health nurse.”

The College is a member of the Commonwealth’s National Nursing and Midwifery Education Advisory Network, an advisory body providing high level strategic advice to Health Ministers on nursing and midwifery workforce planning, which recently established a Mental Health Working Group.

Ms Ryan said the Mental Health Working Group will consider the undergraduate educational preparation of nurses and midwives in the area of mental health, and how to better address mental health in the general practice setting, which is often the first point of patient contact.

Ms Ryan, who was recently awarded the inaugural Australian Mental Health Prize, said it’s imperative nurses and midwives across all healthcare settings work to improve the outcomes of people with mental health and co-occurring mental and physical health conditions.

“There’s 370,000 nurses and midwives in this country. If we can upskill nurses and midwives to better engage with mental health, there’s going to have to be wins,” she said.

“This is what I’ve proposed to the government. If we can get this initiative off the ground and get greater support to nurses and midwives…we will be on our way to improving the mental health literacy and capacity of people more broadly.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords