On the Frontlines of the Mental Health Crisis: What is the Role of RNs?

mental health You already know that nurses make a big impact in their patients’ lives—it’s one of the reasons you’ve thought about joining their ranks. What you may not know is that in the face of the mental health crisis, RNs have a more important role than ever before.

An estimated 43.6 million adults in the United States suffered from some form of mental illness in 2014, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s more than 18 percent of the adult population in the US. RNs are often the first point of contact for those struggling with a mental illness, including many who may be unaware they have a mental health issue.

Mental health care is just as important as a patient’s physical health. As an aspiring registered nurse (RN), you want to stay informed on the mental health crisis and what nurses can do to help so you can provide holistic care to all of your patients. This expert advice will give you practical steps for assisting patients with mental health problems.

What is the mental health crisis?

In short, the mental health crisis refers to the broken system of caring for people in the United States suffering from mental illness. One in four Americans will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, according to a report from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA). Yet there is a severe lack of mental health services available for those who need it. This lack of care and resources leads many patients suffering from mental illness to end up homeless, in prison or dead.

60 percent of adults with a mental illness go untreated, according to a USA Today report. These untreated patients often find themselves in prison as the result of actions taken because of their mental illness—more than half of all prison and jail inmates in 2006 had a mental health problem (APNA). Others are at risk for committing suicide, with about 90 percent of suicides being related to mental illness.

Despite the overwhelming need to help these people, mental health services are being drastically cut. USA Today reports that in recent years, $5 billion in mental health services has been cut by states, and the number of inpatient psychiatric beds available to mental health patients has decreased by more than 32 percent since 1995.

Not only do mental health patients need to deal with lack of care and resources, they’re also facing the negative social stigmas surrounding mental illness. These stigmas are one of the biggest barriers to mental healthcare. Because much of society prefers to distance itself from those with mental illnesses, patients may deny that they have a problem or refuse to seek medical help out of fear of being labeled “crazy” or being treated differently.


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