In a new report published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, researchers assess 19 individual papers spanning ten years and four countries to assess how well medical staff is prepared for dealing with patients admitted for injuries that were self-inflicted. Most common were patients who had cut themselves or who had attempted to commit suicide. The study concluded that hospital staff, especially the nurses responsible for direct care of patients, were inadequately trained for the unique needs of patients who had self-harmed. Staff also reported that attitudes and misconceptions about these patients likely contributed to the patient’s negative experience, and to that nurse’s negative perception of his or her ability to provide adequate care and support.
Any patient admitted to a hospital has not only physical but also emotional and psychological needs. Dealing with an injury or an illness can be overwhelming. But in the case of people who have enacted self-harm, the causal relationship goes the other way: their overwhelming thoughts and feelings were the cause of the injury. In this way, such patients need a type of care and sensitivity that is unique. Yet of those nurses and doctors surveyed, the percentages that had received training on the specialized needs and situations of these patients were quite low: 21 percent in Australia and nine percent in the UK.
Mental health stigma also plays a role in how well these patients are treated in the hospital. For example, of the Australian ER nurses surveyed, 88 percent “had heard other staff make negative statements about patients who had self-harmed.” These attitudes, intentionally or not, may easily influence the interactions between staff and patients. According to the report, training the hospital staff on the psychological and emotional landscape of self-harm (both leading to and stemming from the act itself) resulted in increased confidence, better understanding, and greater empathy toward patients. A nurse is not a therapist or psychologist, but working to educate them on even the basics of psychological health as related to self harm can make a significant and positive difference on patients’ experience while in the hospital.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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