Improving physical health

A common refrain amongst mental health nurses is that our knowledge, skills and contributions are poorly understood and undervalued by our physical healthcare nurse colleagues. As a nurse trained in both mental and physical health care fields I have sympathy with this position. But I also wonder if our concern with meeting mental health need has caused us to lose sight of the importance of physical health? I am again reminded of Professor Graham Thornicroft’s recent editorial in the BMJ on the scandal of early death in people with mental illness. Mental health nurses have a real part to play in promoting physical wellbeing and facilitating access to services, in their capacity as direct providers and as coordinators of care. Locally, I see evidence that some are taking this part of their work seriously. I know of mental health nurses who, as part-time MSc students, are motivated to develop smoking cessation programmes in hospitals and to introduce wellbeing screening clinics in the community.

With all this in mind it was interesting to see the most recent issue of the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing carrying a series of papers on this topic. There are contributions on: the work of mental health nurses in primary care; promoting access; attitudes, knowledge and training needs; and the physical activity levels of people with mental ill-health. Worth a read, I think.

Unrelatedly, here in England and Wales we are midway through an extended (bank holiday) weekend. This is all pretty meaningless to those nurses for whom shiftwork goes on as usual. Occupying the privileged position that I do, this afternoon brings not a trip to the office but, instead, the first visit of the new season to the Cardiff City Stadium. There, the newly promoted Bluebirds play their inaugural home game in football’s Premier League. Against Manchester City, it’s going to be tough. But whatever the outcome I know we’ll enjoy the occasion.

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