November 30, 2020 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

Caring for Patients with Mental Illness at SNFs

While skilled nursing facilities typically provide long-term care for individuals, there is another aspect of care that may also require thoughtful consideration: a person’s mental health. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects up to 40 million adults in the U.S. every year, and depression affects up to 15 million Americans in any given year.1

During this COVID era, it is especially important to take the necessary steps to care for the mentally ill, who may also be recovering from a physical ailment, disability or injury. Skilled nursing facilities that are admitting patients with mental health disorders can continue to provide the highest quality of care by considering the following.

Establish Training Programs for Staff

We could all use a refresher from time to time, and regular training is a way SNF staff members can stay well informed about the behavioral, emotional and mental rumblings that may be going on with a patient. One way to consider incorporating a training program is by reviewing mental health topics on an annual or semi-annual basis and sharing the findings with staff. Training programs and courses, such as those one can find through Mental Health First Aid and the American Psychological Association, can help better identify and understand mental illnesses in the community. With resourceful training material in place, staff members may then look at different tools that can speak to a patient’s needs, while also exploring ways to keep his or her mental health strong.  

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Whether it’s with patients or facilitators within the skilled nursing facility, maintaining an open dialogue is essential to understanding the needs of others and communicating more effectively. Additionally, communication in a clear and transparent manner makes it easier to talk through and review best practices and strategies that may be most beneficial for patients with a diagnosed mental health condition in a SNF environment.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some of the best ways to approach a patient with mental illness may include the following:

  • Be respectful, compassionate and engaging.
  • Ease into the conversation.
  • Speak at a level that is appropriate to their mental and development level.
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as “How can I help you right now?”
  • Avoid assuming things about the patient or the situation.

Stay Current with CMS Guidelines

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) showed that antidepressants are the most commonly-used medications by adults.2 With that said, there’s no denying that mental health is becoming just as important as one’s physical health; and part of making sure SNFs are providing the best care is staying up to date with the latest CMS rules and regulations as they change and evolve. This includes understanding the CMS guidelines for mental health medications and also knowing when doses may need to be adjusted.3  Note that when treating patients with mental and physical health, any observation of change in mental status should be communicated to the attending physician in case a change in dosage may be required.   

Connect Patients to Telehealth Therapy Services  

While the benefits of treating in person can ease anxiety of patients in the SNF, if not possible due to COVID-related restrictions, consider using telehealth to at least be virtually face-to-face with patients. Plus, by communicating in this manner, a resident may feel more comfortable and at ease speaking to someone about their current state of mind via a telehealth platform. A telehealth platform can also help SNFs adjust to workflow changes and manage remote patient monitoring and chronic care.4

As more individuals with mental health conditions are admitted to SNFs, the safety and quality of care for all residents must remain front and center. Creating a comprehensive strategy plan for individuals with mental health disorders is one step forward in ensuring they feel heard and understood by their caregivers.

Find out how Optima Therapy for Skilled Nursing Facilities & Senior Living can improve workflow efficiencies and provide resourceful tools for all those in this line of care.


  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Facts and Statistics,” 2020.
  2. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Antidepressant Medications: Use in Adults,” October 2015.
  3. McKnight’s Long Term Care News, “Seven Strategies for Treating Psychiatric Patients in SNFs,” March 5, 2018.
  4. mHealth Intelligence, “A Blueprint for Telehealth Success for Skilled Nursing Facilities,” April 13, 2020.
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