Subscribe Blog Contact
The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.
Mental health and palliative care patients: the “treatment gap”
Sadness, social withdrawal, depression, loss of hope; if a non-palliative person experiences any of these feelings, the health care system has well established processes and services to treat them. Why then do we accept this as ‘normal’ and ‘to be expected’ for those facing the end of life? Why does the system hesitate to ‘label’ these vulnerable people with a mental illness tag?
Mental illness in the terminally ill is too often underdiagnosed and undertreated. It’s frequently ignored – “well of course you’re having trouble coping, you’re dying,” – or pushed aside in favour of addressing clinical symptoms. While existential and psychological care is acknowledged as being crucial to providing quality end of life care, people continually report that theirs, their families and care givers needs in this domain are not addressed.
With 52% of Australians dying in acute hospitals, end-of-life care is essential knowledge for health care professionals.
However, health care professionals working in acute hospitals can find themselves challenged by patients with end-of-life care needs. Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals can be in a situation where they do not know how to best respond to a patient with end-of-life needs. Appropriate end-of-life interventions can be missed.
As a course coordinator of the palliative care courses at Flinders University I have seen our post graduate student population change over time. Ten years ago, students were primarily health professionals who worked in specialist palliative care services. These students worked to expand and update their knowledge, sharpen their skills and improve their own professional capacity to deliver palliative care.
Today Flinders’ students still work to grow, change and develop, but the student profile is changing. We work with students who are employed across a range of health services including, aged care, emergency departments, pain clinics, medical wards, adult and neonatal intensive care units, and respiratory wards. These professionals are proactively seeking to expand their skills to meet the needs of the growing number of Australians (up to 52%) with a life-limiting illness and who die in acute hospitals.