Mental Health Challenges in Long-Term Care

Crystal Parney News

Mental illness affects 65-90% of people who live in long-term care facilities. This statistic stems from deinstitutionalization, a phenomenon that occurred more than fifty years ago, where officials shuffled mentally ill patients from state run psychiatric hospitals to community-based programs. When these programs could not meet the high demands of care, long-term facilities and nursing homes experienced a surge of residents with psychiatric diagnoses that ranged from schizophrenia and mood disorders to anxiety and depression.  

This issue is still prevalent today in long-term care facilities, creating behavioral plan issues that staff struggle to manage. Nursing home staff are not always equipped and trained to manage, recognize, and treat psychiatric disorders; and nursing homes rarely employ behavioral health professionals. Not to mention, nursing home facilities often experience short staffing that increases these difficulties. 

Even with these challenges, residents with mental illness deserve to receive appropriate care and nursing staff should be trained to recognize the signs and behaviors of mental illness. Here are a list of the behaviors and symptoms residents may exhibit if they have a mental illness:  

  • Restlessness or agitation 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Sleep Issues 
  • Drug or alcohol dependency  
  • Self-harm behaviors
  • Cognitive decline
  • Mood swings

Although recognizing signs of mental illness is important it is only a piece of the puzzle. Knowing how to meet the challenges of caring for residents with mental illness is another. Here is a list of actions long-term care facilities can take to assist residents: 

  • Implement policies and procedures that outline how to provide person-centered care for individuals with a mental illness.  
  • Train staff in de-escalation techniques, such as redirection.
  • Educate staff on how to recognize mental illness and risk factors, as well as, how to connect residents with mental health support services. 
  • Encouraging residents to take part in group activities. 
  • Ensure behavior plans are followed to decrease behavioral issues.  

Caring for and managing the behaviors of residents with mental illness can be incredibly challenging; however, it is a vital aspect of providing health care. With the right training and education, long-term care nursing staff can find success in treating and managing mental health issues for their residents.\

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