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Even with plenty of training and education, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly the best way to interact with and treat patients who have mental health disorders. In this article, we’ll go over some commonly seen mental health disorders, as well as guidelines for maintaining a positive relationship with patients who are experiencing mental health issues.

Common Mental Health Disorders

Bipolar disorder: Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder comes in three types and generally consists of manic and depressive episodes. During a manic episode, a patient may feel extremely wired, elated, or irritable. They’re likely to have a decreased need for sleep as well as a decreased appetite. Racing thoughts, feelings that they are important and powerful, and poor judgment are also hallmarks of mania. Depressive episodes, on the other hand, come with many of the hallmarks of depression like feeling hopeless, losing interest in life, and having trouble concentrating and making decisions.

Eating disorders: The most common eating disorders you may see are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Remember that eating disorders can affect people of all sizes. People with anorexia limit their food intake and tend to have a preoccupation with weight, calories, and dieting. Meanwhile, those who live with bulimia binge and purge rather than limiting their intake. People who have binge eating disorder feel a lack of control over their eating and secretly binge on large amounts of food.

Major depression: Depression often comes with symptoms like feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. It can become severe enough to affect a person’s ability to function in everyday life.

Anxiety and phobias: These mental health disorders involve feelings of fear and anxiety that can present in a variety of ways. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, persistent worry over a variety of things. You might see patients have panic attacks as well. A phobia is a fear reaction that is considered excessive and unnatural. Sadly, some patients have phobias of doctors and needles, which can be a barrier to care.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Although PTSD is often thought of as affecting veterans and those who have been through extreme trauma, PTSD can also be the result of long-term abuse and other difficult situations. It comes with symptoms like flashbacks, agitation, hypervigilance, insomnia, and emotional detachment.

Schizophrenia: People with schizophrenia generally experience times when they are out of touch with reality. They may be delusional or have visual and auditory hallucinations. Oftentimes, these symptoms are accompanied by social isolation, anxiety, and fatigue.

How to Treat Patients with Mental Health Disorders

The first step in treating a patient who has a mental health disorder is assessing their current mental state. Are they in touch with reality? What psychological symptoms are they experiencing? Always remember that regardless of how your patient is currently behaving, they are a human being who deserves your respect and compassion. By establishing good communication with your patients and building a relationship with them, it’s much more likely you’ll have a positive outcome.

While treating patients with mental health disorders, be sure to be considerate with the things you say and the language you use. Insensitive comments to other nurses or to the patient are likely to make them feel uncomfortable and even upset. Mental health problems are not the fault of the person experiencing them, and treating a patient as if it is their fault that they’re struggling is not appropriate or beneficial. Instead, be sensitive to the way that patients feel, and do your best to remain compassionate.

It’s a great idea to speak with mental health professionals at your place of employment to see if they have any suggestions or resources to share with your patient. You can also refer patients with mental health disorders to a variety of community services where they can get additional help. Click here for more information on mental health-related topics.

Becoming an Advocate for Patients

Since nurses work more directly with patients than other healthcare workers, they have the most power when it comes to implementing a system to care for patients with mental health disorders. You can influence the development of new policies that positively affect those experiencing mental illness. For example, a policy for additional funding that allows patients access to affordable ongoing care can make a difference in many people’s lives.

Aside from making a difference through policy, you can make a difference simply by showing compassion and giving quality care to patients with mental health disorders. Nurses can have a huge impact on patients’ attitudes and overall outcomes. When patients feel heard, understood, and cared about, they’re much more likely to receive suggestions and help in a positive way. It only takes one person to change someone’s life for the better, and that person can be you.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma that surrounds mental illness and mental health topics, and this stigma leads many people with mental health disorders to fear judgment and avoid getting help. With your empathy and care, these patients can overcome the stigma and make progress.

Main Takeaways

Considering one out of every five adults lives with some type of mental health disorder, it’s inevitable that you will treat patients with mental illness. Some of the most commonly-seen mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, and schizophrenia, although there are many others as well.

When treating patients with mental health disorders, it’s essential to view them as a human being worthy of respect. Although they may act in ways that seem strange or don’t make sense to you, it’s always important to empathize with the patient and provide them with quality care. Nurses can act as advocates for patients with mental health disorders by influencing policies that will benefit them and helping patients feel heard and understood. You can also provide patients with additional resources and information about mental health services in the community to help them continue their journey to improved mental health.


This article was contributed by Marie Miguel who has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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