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The Need to Embed Holistic Practices when Treating Mental Health Patients

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It may be that your practice needs to rethink its approach to providing care and treatment to patients with mental health issues. A survey by Rethink has highlighted a possible connection between the treatment of patients with mental health issues and their mortality rates, which might be used to shape the future of treatment of patients in primary care.

Why do patients with mental health issues die so young?

It is rare that mental health issues themselves are the cause of premature death, yet patients with mental health issues have premature death rates far lower than the general population. On average, such patients die 20 years younger than the average age of death of others. Rethink’s latest research, conducted to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2016, produced some disturbing findings. These include that 51% of those questioned said that they had not been given a physical health check at the time of prescription for their mental health issues. This begs the question if these patients had been given a physical health check in combination with their mental health check and prescription, could premature death have been prevented?

The need to discuss side-effects of mental health prescriptions

Equally worryingly, it was found that almost two-thirds of patients who were prescribed drugs to combat mental health issues received no warning or discussion of possible side effects. And nor did many understand the different medication options available.

Again, given these responses, it is clear that practices (and other health care providers) must take greater care when examining and treating patients with mental health issues in the same manner that they ensure effective care for those with learning disabilities. This might include putting in place processes that ensure a:

- regular holistic health check

- health action plan to address identified issues

- physical health check at time of prescription for mental health issues

It should also be noted that there are special rules concerning chaperoning and disclosure of confidential information.

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The physical effects of side effects

More than three quarters of patients prescribed drugs for mental health issues said that weight gain was one of the side effects they had experienced. By not discussing this fully with the patient, the patient is left with no strategies to combat an increase in weight.

As we all know, weight gain and obesity is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Being forewarned about possible weight gain issues may mitigate some or all of these potential physical health issues.

Other common side effects include twitches, insomnia, and sexual problems.

An action plan for GPs

The CQC is highly concerned about the provision of mental health services in the UK healthcare industry. With this in mind, it’s highly likely that GP practices will be more closely observed with regard to what treatment they provide and the internal processes followed.

Processes that ensure a physical health check is conducted in tandem with a mental health check should ensure that medication is appropriate at all levels of health, and a clear discussion of possible side effects will better prepare a patient for potential physical health problems going forward.

By making care and treatment of patients with mental health issues a priority, and discussing internally at management and team level – and then providing adequate and appropriate training – a practice will better serve this section of vulnerable patients. 

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