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Do you mind?

Why is physical and mental health considered two different things, and what barriers can be broken down to change this, writes Bethann Siviter. 

Why is physical and mental health considered two different things, and what barriers can be broken down to change this, writes Bethann Siviter

In the UK, our training (excuse me, our education) prepares us to care for adults, children, people who have learning disabilities or people who have mental health needs.

Having been through a traumatic illness resulting in a chronic condition I can guarantee that nearly every patient you encounter in the community has some unmet mental health need: we are trained so well to attend physical needs like wounds and disease management yet not to care for the mind. Why, as holistic care providers, do we see physical and mental health as two different things? Isn’t the brain an organ, too?

'We must get better as a profession at seeing mental health as an organic, physical function of the brain'

How many of us, hand on fob-watch, could differentiate depression from self-care problems resulting from disability? How many of us refer our community clients to mental health for support in coping with the stressors and difficulties resulting from chronic health problems? How many of us assess mental function and coping on a regular basis for any concern other than dementia? Or do we just leave these important things to the nameless someone else?

Hindrance or help?

Those we are so privileged to care for can sometimes lead difficult lives. Never leaving the house, chronic pain, chronic ill health, social isolation, deprivation, discrimination – would you have your best head on if this was your life?

And sometimes, we don’t help. I remember more than once people being ‘told off’ for calling for the nurse ‘for no reason’ when the reason was loneliness, pure and simple. Are we genuinely too busy to have compassion for pain in the mind?

We must get better as a profession at seeing mental health as an organic, physical function of the brain, and treat mental health needs with the same respect, attention and dignity as we treat physical illness.

Former nurse Dame June Clark famously said: ‘If you can’t name it, you can’t control it.’ She was talking about nursing, but doesn’t it apply to mental health, too? 


About the author

Bethann Siviter in an independent nursing consultant

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