While hospice agencies provide all-around care for patients who are nearing the end of their lives, it can also undeniably be a stressful time for seniors who may be trying to come to terms with a new reality. These distressed feelings may also be intensified by those who are grappling with a mental health condition, in addition to their terminal illness. For example, according to the American Psychological Association, up to 20 percent of terminally patients are diagnosed with major depression. 1
Regardless of what a patient may be struggling with, hospices can also extend their line of care to address an individual’s state of mind and be a source of kindness and compassion through the end of their life journey.
Surround Patient with a Caring Team
The Disability Services and Legal website notes that in order to provide the best quality care for patients with mental illness, it is essential that hospices work with the patient’s entire medical care team, and also consult other professionals – such as psychiatrists, social workers and counselors – who may have the expertise and knowledge that can support a patient’s treatment plan.2 Hospice care often starts with designing a thorough and consistent plan that includes reliable treatment options not just for managing a patient’s pain levels, but for their mental well-being as well.
Equally as important is talking to the patient about their current state of mind and listening with an open mind and an open heart. Doing so can help one better identify which team members to turn to for additional resources and care.
Provide Proper Training for Staff
We don’t know what we don’t know, but in a hospice environment, taking the steps to expand one’s awareness and knowledge on all things mental health is key. Mental health courses and training programs, such as those available through the Mental Health First Aid and the American Psychological Association, can equip those in hospice care to better support patients who may have underlying mental and emotional concerns. This may range from familiarizing oneself on all the different types of mental health conditions to better understanding a patient’s particular diagnosis. Educating oneself can provide a greater perspective and understanding of what a patient may be experiencing and also help establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect.3
Hospice patients who may have been diagnosed with a mental health ailment may sometimes have a difficult time communicating how they feel. The unpleasant combination of experiencing physical pain along with mental distress may be overwhelming. But approaching them with a kind, caring, and compassionate spirit is what can help hospice patients feel a sense of comfort and relief, and not to mention provide insight on the struggles of their inner world.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some of the best ways to approach a patient with mental illness may include the following:
- Avoid prying and look for common ground.
- Give them the opportunity to speak and share their feelings.
- Offer words of hope and prayers.
- Ask open-ended questions, such as “How can I help you?”
Offer Counseling and Therapy Options
Having counselors and psychiatrists nearby who are trained to support the needs of a patient and their mental health is also key. A patient’s end-of-life treatment plan may include counseling sessions with a therapist or a sit-down with a psychiatrist, thus providing a safe space for them to share what’s going on inside their head. Alternative therapy options, such as animal therapy or art therapy, may also provide great benefits to patients who need an outlet to express what they’re feeling through different forms. 5
Work with a Patient’s Loved Ones
Keeping the lines of communication open with a patient’s loved ones may reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that can affect a person’s mental health. A recent study that looked at 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries revealed that 25 percent of said individuals have reported a decline in their mental health since the start of the pandemic, and 90 percent feel lonelier now. 6 But ongoing visits with family members and friends may help a senior struggling with a mental condition feel like they are continuously loved and care for. It can also give them a sense of purpose, connection and community.
When patients with mental illness near the end of their lives, it is the careful consideration and care of hospice that may help them reach a place of peace they may not have been able to otherwise find.
Learn more about how a specialized EHR solution can keep your hospice agency running smoothly.
5 Key Stressors Hospice Professionals Face, with Guidance for Support
By Joy Berger, DMA, FT, BCC, MT-BC, Founder and CEO of Composing Life out of Loss
1 American Psychological Association, “End of Life Issues and Care,” 2008.
2 Disability Services and Legal, “Dealing With Mental Illness In The Hospice,” March 12, 2019.
3 Hospice News, “Improving Hospice Access for Patients with Serious Mental Illness,” August 21, 2020.
4 National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Tips for How to Help a Person with Mental Illness,” November 19, 2020.
5 Disability Services and Legal, “Dealing With Mental Illness In The Hospice,” March 12, 2019.
6 Hospice News, “Social Isolation a Threat to Hospice Patients During COVID-19,” October 21, 2020.