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The Importance of Assessment in Psychiatric Nursing

Patient health assessment is a necessary tool used in every field of nursing, but the information gathered may vary according to the specialty. Through interviews and examinations, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) begin a process to aid their patients.

An assessment is a baseline psychiatric-mental health record that nurse practitioners use in order to determine a patient’s condition and form a healthcare plan. PMHNPs can learn advanced health assessment techniques in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

What Is the Role of a PMHNP?

A PMHNP assesses, diagnoses and treats patients. By incorporating their scientific, clinical and theoretical knowledge, PMHNPs help patients who are coping with and managing physical and mental health concerns. In this, psychiatric NPs take a distinctly holistic approach to assessing and treating patient health. The responsibilities of a PMHNP may include:

  • Physical and mental health assessments
  • Crisis interventions
  • Prescription of medications
  • Counseling
  • Psychotherapy services

What Types of Patients Do PMHNPs Treat?

Patients may suffer from physical ailments as well as mental, emotional and behavioral problems. Typically, a PMHNP works with patients of all ages who have mental health issues such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Insomnia

Why Is a Patient Assessment Important?

An assessment is important because the PMHNP needs to understand what is causing a patient’s distress. A patient may have a medical condition that is affecting their mental health rather than a neurological illness. Or a patient may have both a physical and mental illness. Thus, a PMHNP examines a patient’s body and state of mind by performing an assessment.

Plus, the health concerns a patient is coping with may be ongoing and/or triggered by adverse circumstances like trauma. For instance, the World Health Organization reports that the prevalence of anxiety and depression in the global population increased by 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting individual and collective trauma. Through a careful, trauma-informed approach to assessment and treatment, PMHNPs can better determine the root causes of a patient’s distress and ensure the patient receives appropriate care in an emotionally safe environment.

What Is Involved in a Routine Psychiatric Assessment?

A routine psychiatric assessment may begin with a PMHNP going over a patient’s medical and psychiatric history and evaluating results from prior and current mental status examinations. The PMHNP may also rely on input from family members or friends.

Effective communication between the PMHNP and the patient is imperative. The PMHNP needs to ask open-ended questions so patients can talk about their problems in their own words instead of checking boxes or adhering to a rigid format. The PMHNP should inquire about what led the patient to seek care. The PMHNP may also delve into these areas of a patient’s life:

  • Social: Single, married or divorced
  • Employment: Stable at work or unable to hold a job
  • Family mental health: Family members diagnosed with mental disorders
  • Developmental: Behavioral issues or difficulty handling social roles
  • Daily actions: Use or abuse alcohol or drugs, suicidal ideation
  • Harmful or violent tendencies: Attempted suicide or violent toward others

What Should an Assessment Establish?

A PMHNP needs to pinpoint if a patient’s deteriorating mental capacity is the result of a treatment for a physical condition or psychopathy. Medical illnesses can trigger stress so patients may experience an adjustment disorder. PMHNPs can help these patients learn strategies to manage the strain they feel while living with a physical ailment. In addition, mentally ill patients with medical conditions may become unstable if not treated.

How Do PMHNPs Assess a Patient’s Mental Frame of Mind?

Some patients may only have mental health issues. A patient’s assessment is a personality profile that provides PMHNPs with information they need to diagnose and develop treatment options. A PMHNP needs to decide if the patient has a disorder or is demonstrating signs of addiction. Generally, a mental health assessment may include the following questions:

  • Is the patient resilient or conscientious?
  • Is the patient self-centered, dependent, low-tolerating or frustrated?
  • Does the patient know coping mechanisms?
  • Does the patient have any obsessions, distressing impulses, negative thoughts or compulsions?
  • Does the patient have delusions?
  • Does the patient lack hygiene?
  • Is the patient appropriately dressed?
  • Is the patient speaking slowly and softly or rapidly and loudly?
  • What is the mood of the patient? Is the patient agitated or hostile?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults has a mental health condition. Moreover, it is estimated that only half of Americans who experience mental illness are treated for their condition. The demand for PMHNPs who excel in psychiatric assessment and treatment is great due to the state of mental health in America and a growing shortage of psychiatrists and physicians.

Nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a license to practice are eligible to apply to an MSN – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree program like the one offered online by Northern Kentucky University (NKU). This degree enables nurses to pursue Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an essential step to a career in a rewarding field.

Learn more about NKU’s online MSN – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

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