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Ready for a Mental Health Emergency

8 Jun 2022

By gaining skills in assessment, intervention, and referral, remote area nurses and health practitioners can drive positive outcomes when clients present with mental illness or severe distress, and provide a strong foundation for specialised care, says Mental Health Nurse Amanda North.

Most nurs­es and mid­wives say they’ve had very min­i­mal for­mal edu­ca­tion about men­tal health prac­tice,” says Men­tal Health Nurse and CRANAplus Men­tal Health Emer­gen­cies Course Coor­di­na­tor, Aman­da North.

Yet well over 50% of clin­i­cians are say­ing they’re see­ing peo­ple with men­tal health issues on a week­ly or fort­night­ly basis – in some cas­es even daily.”

Why under­take men­tal health train­ing as a nurse or health practitioner?

The most imme­di­ate ben­e­fit is the poten­tial to secure improved men­tal health out­comes for clients who present with acute men­tal ill­ness, severe dis­tress, and sub­stance or alco­hol use.

It’s also about clients stay­ing con­fi­dent in their health ser­vice and stay­ing engaged across the board,” Aman­da says. 

If peo­ple have a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence in men­tal health, they are more like­ly to engage in phys­i­cal, ongo­ing health care.”

Clin­i­cians them­selves can devel­op their abil­i­ty to set up a sol­id foun­da­tion for spe­cialised care and become well-round­ed generalists.

Health prac­ti­tion­ers fin­ish the course feel­ing they can have a pos­i­tive impact on clients, and that men­tal health is not some­thing they have to dodge, avoid, or imme­di­ate­ly refer else­where,” Aman­da says.

They can gain base­line skills and knowl­edge, so when they are com­mu­ni­cat­ing with spe­cial­ist teams or speak­ing to the Med­ical Offi­cer, they can feel more con­fi­dent in their assess­ment and deci­sion-mak­ing together.”

What skills does the MHE Course teach?

The MHE course teach­es soft skills around client engage­ment, clin­i­cal skills around men­tal state exam­i­na­tion and risk assess­ment,” Aman­da says.

It is about assess­ing clients when they’re pre­sent­ing, often in cri­sis. It’s most­ly acute-focused, but the skills can be used across the board to engage clients and talk about men­tal health issues.

We use a Five Os Frame­work to pro­vide a struc­ture to help clin­i­cians when they maybe feel­ing out of their depth. We look at how to open­ly engage with the client, how to observe for signs of ill­ness, how to con­sid­er under­ly­ing med­ical issues, how to seek col­lat­er­al and/​or ask spe­cif­ic ques­tions and how to make refer­rals and organ­ise evacuations.”

Sce­nar­ios are tai­lored to remote prac­tice, and fac­tor in a lack of resources, a small­er team, and phys­i­cal distances.

If a young per­son presents with sui­ci­dal thoughts, we don’t say you refer them to the child and youth team, or keep them in ED,” Aman­da explains.

We make it about what can be achieved safe­ly with the avail­able resources – such as your assess­ment, engag­ing with fam­i­ly, organ­is­ing a safe­ty plan includ­ing per­haps a fol­low-up the next day. It’s about the best care for the client and that’s not always evacuation”

Or to give anoth­er exam­ple, using com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills to encour­age the client to have a med­ica­tion rather than tak­ing a more assertive or restric­tive approach that may be avail­able in an urban ED.”

The con­ve­nience of online learning

The MHE Course is now avail­able in both face-to-face and online for­mats. Spots are still avail­able for two online cours­es this year, sched­uled from 18 July to 12 Sep­tem­ber, and 6 Octo­ber to 1 December.

For the online course, the beau­ty is that there are oppor­tu­ni­ties to ask ques­tions and engage over an extend­ed peri­od,” says Amanda.

If a case presents at work or you are not sure about the con­tent, there are plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to ask. It often emerges that pro­fes­sion­als are not alone in fac­ing challenges.”

The MHE Online Course is held over eight weeks and fea­tures three sched­uled Zoom ses­sions. Out­side of these ses­sions, clin­i­cians can com­plete the two hours of week­ly study at a time that suits them.

For many remote area nurs­es, men­tal health train­ing is usu­al­ly not manda­to­ry,” Aman­da says in con­clu­sion, but when an indi­vid­ual presents with a men­tal health emer­gency, it can be just as deci­sive as your phys­i­cal health train­ing. We know these are skills clin­i­cians need to use regularly.

It is often up to the indi­vid­ual, or their clin­ic or employ­er, to recog­nise the impor­tance of this kind of train­ing and to gain men­tal health skills to pos­i­tive­ly impact their com­mu­ni­ty and gain the con­fi­dence that they’re fol­low­ing best practice.”