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Mental Illness and your Patient


Mental Illness and your Patient

Many nurses are uncomfortable, frustrated or at a loss with how to deal with a patient who has mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, as a

co-morbidity. You may feel you didn’t sign up for psych nursing, but the reality is, mentally ill people  get sick.  Actually they have a higher mortality but that’s another sad fact and post.

When Your Patient has a Mental Illness

When Your Patient has a Mental Illness

  1. Treat them like anyone else-with respect. They are someone’s daughter, sister, brother. They have feelings and sense your heart. Do not tolerate mocking by your co-workers.
  2. Recognize it’s a medical illness. They have a chronic bio-physiologic disorder that can be diagnosed, managed and treated like other medical illnesses. Diabetes, for example.
  3. Having a mental illness is not a lifestyle or a choice. No one chooses to have Bipolar Disorder or to have an illness which ostracizes them from society.
  4.  As a result of their illness, they may be cognitively impacted and can be socially inappropriate with lack of insight.Frontal lobe involvement can result in impulsivity, poor judgment and lack of filter.
  5. Be clear and give step by step directions. Do not give rapid, complex instructions. Repeat if needed. Do not expect perfect retention.
  6. Re focus if they are perseverating/repeating themselves. As an example, try offering a snack, or taking a walk in the hallway.
  7. A high per cent of people with mental illness smoke cigarettes. Factoid- smoking helps to decrease auditory hallucinations. Meaning I don’t judge folks who have a mental illness and smoke. At any rate, get them started on a nicotine patch ASAP.

Until next time friend,

Nurse Beth

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You can also visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂



About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

4 Comments on Mental Illness and your Patient

  1. Excellent!

  2. I tell my students this all the time when they are complaining about their psych rotations (after I tell them to stop complaining about their psych rotation.) Basically, “If you think you will never see another mentally ill person, you are the disillusioned one – schizophrenics have heart attacks too!”

    • Why are they even complaining about their psyche rotations? I’m 2 years out of school and that was one of my favorite rotations, along with all the others I did. I currently work as an MDS director at a large rehab/nursing facility and let me tell you, about 1 in 10 rt’s is diagnosed with some mental illness. Beth hit the nail on the head when she stated that this is an ILLNESS not something they chose or facilitated through lifestyle. As with any sphere of nursing, it begins with the patient. Meet them where they are and drop your agenda right away. Doing this will ease your interaction with the mentally ill patient!

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