Improving Care for Persons with Mental Illnesses in the Emergency Department Setting

Two doctors and a nurse, dressed in scrubs, looking at a medical chartDespite the strong evidence linking mental illness to increased physical morbidity and mortality, persons with a mental illness often report that in a variety of healthcare settings, their medical concerns are discounted and their physical symptoms are ignored or misattributed to a mental illness. This phenomenon is known as diagnostic overshadowing. In general, people with a mental illness have greater difficulty accessing healthcare, or receive inadequate care, compared to the general population.  Individuals with a serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population. To learn more about these topics and others related to issues faced by persons with a mental illness in the ED and the health care professionals that interact with them, read our ED Research Highlights and find additional resources in our ED Bibliography:

Wisconsin United for Mental Health (WUMH) received a grant to explore improving emergency medical care to persons with a mental illness diagnosis. The grant planning group includes representatives from the Department of Health Services, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, NAMI Dane County, Rogers Hospital, Meriter Hospital, and UW Hospitals and Clinics. While WUMH first became interested in this issue through testimonies from mental health consumers about having their medical conditions discounted in emergency department settings, we have broadened our focus to include the variety of challenges that healthcare providers face in meeting the needs of this population.

New Resource

Competent Caring: When Mental Illness Becomes a Traumatic Event is an educational video/DVD may be purchased online from the NAMI online Store. The cost is $5.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. This video was developed through a collaborative effort between NAMI and the Hospital Corporation of America for continuing education training for healthcare staff. The DVD highlights the experience of an individual and the ER staff response when he seeks treatment for a mental health crisis in an Emergency Room setting. It was developed for people who work directly with individuals living with mental illness in a hospital or healthcare setting and contains a 47-minute full version video and a 15-minute abbreviated version video. As with all training materials, each facility will want to review the product to discern how it might fit within their overall training program and how well it responds to their needs and circumstances. To do so, ER staffs might want to contact their local NAMI to see if they can preview this DVD before purchasing. They might also consider what additional educational materials and resources would complement use of this DVD.

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