Train nurses in mental health issues earlier to close care gap

In the wake of actor Robin Williams' suicide, the healthcare industry must pay even greater attention to mental health concerns.Training nurses in mental health issues earlier in their education could help close the gap in mental healthcare, as well as better equip nurses to deal with mentally ill patients, according to

Cynthia von Grauvogl, R.N., a full-time instructor at the California State University, Fullerton School of Nursing, said nursing students come in terrified of mental health patients, expecting to deal with extreme psychiatric patients and not everyday mental health issues like anxiety and depression

Nurses must be able to better identify mental health problems and know when to bring in someone with more expertise, according to the article, as a rising number of people with mental health issues seek care for their illnesses.

Teaching nurses that mental illness is a wide-spread problem across much of the population, and those people deserve the same care, compassion and respect as any other patient, is key, according to Mary Wickman, Ph.D., director and professor at the nursing program at Vanguard University of Southern California in Costa Mesa.

Von Grauvogl applies her teachings to all areas of nursing in the intensive care unit, medical surgery, the emergency room and the operating room, exposing her students to various mental health patients in the VA Long Beach Healthcare System. There students see nurses working as case managers and referring patients to mental health services, she said. "It really broadens their view of what mental healthcare is," von Grauvogl told "Once they talk to the patients, they find it's like talking to anyone else. It's quite an eye opener."

The article recommends using the following methods to prepare to prepare nurses for how to deal with patients who have mental illnesses:

  • Train them in various settings, not just the inpatient psychiatric unit

  • Integrate mental health training into all nursing specialties

  • Promote a holistic view of patients, and connect mental health to all aspects of nursing

  • Identify and become familiar with the role of mental health specialists in the hospital and the community

  • Nursing programs should include information to identify, assess and treat more frequently seen mental illnesses, as well as prevention measures for those illnesses

  • Introduce psychiatric and mental health training into nursing school curriculum in the first year so students can apply that knowledge throughout the rest of their training

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