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Observing is a crucial part of caregiving especially when dealing with patients who are at risk or who have an existing mental health problem. It is the act of having a focused and attentive look at the patient and doing it free from any form of prejudice or bias.

Observing a patient’s mental health is an essential skill a health care professional especially of nurses should have. It isn’t an easy skill especially that it requires different abilities including intellectual, emotional, and organizational abilities.

Observing the patient’s mental health is vital especially in a psychiatric facility as every facial expression, gesture and silence can mean a different thing for each.

Learning how to observe the patient can provide nurses with a better understanding of their patients including their responses to the environment, treatments, and even with their suffering. The information gathered from this observation can be used to come up with interventions in case certain situations arise (i.e. when patients become agitated, violent, etc.).

Learning to observe the patient’s mental health is also vital as it helps the health care professionals learn to protect themselves especially in cases when there is unexpected outbursts of violence. It is only through careful and systematic patient observation that health care professionals can know when the patient is having frustration buildup and what usually triggers it.

It is not just patients in psychiatric facilities who should be assessed; the health care team should also include those who are chronically ill. These patients are at high risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. In one study done on patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it showed that anxiety and depression were prevalent in these patients compared to the general population.

The Proper Way to Observe

Being objective is important when observing the patient’s mental health status. To be objective means to be impartial or emotionally neutral as much as possible. Usually, when we are confronted with a certain situation, our initial response is to judge the people of it. This judgment is not healthy when assessing patients for their mental health status as they can be a source of bias, affecting the way we respond to them.

To be objective, we need to reserve those judgments for the time being and only reinstate them once we have more detailed information.

Being attentive is also important while observing the patient’s mental health. It means being active all throughout the process which requires constant and consistent seeking of data to help validate perceptions.

Talking is a good way to observe the patient’s mental health status. When talking with the patient, the nurse must take down notes on significant changes on the patient’s physical appearance and behavior. Changes in the visual contact, the state of calmness, and degree of orientation must also be noted.

Some of the changes that should alert the nurse include changes on orientation (patient doesn’t know where he is or has problem orienting himself), difficulty recognizing familiar people (this can be a symptom of dementia), agitation, and loss of interest in everyday activities. Any of these changes should be communicated with the other members of the health care team for further assessment of the patient.

Changes on physical health can have an impact on the patient’s emotional and mental health. On the same way that existing mental health issues can aggravate certain medical conditions. Hence, it’s very important for nurses and the rest of the health care team to include observation of mental health as part of the assessment process.

Proper observation of the patient’s mental health status is the key towards preventing complications and emergence of new health problems.

Image: Unsplash

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