Research has indicated that nurses have “considerable difficulty” recognising depression and distress in patients.
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Even though nurses are at the front line of caring for people, they are given little training in mental health, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.
Consultant in psycho-oncology at Leicestershire Partnership Trust Dr Alex Mitchell, who is also an honorary senior lecturer at the university, said when it comes to dealing with depression and distress, nursing staff are “probably the most important group of health professionals”.
His team are developing simple methods to help recognise mood problems, which can be accessed for free at psycho-oncology.info/.
Dr Mitchell, of the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine, said: “In the NHS 400,000 nurses provide valuable support to those suffering a range of physical and mental illnesses but struggle to detect depression in the early stages.
“Nurses are often very capable of forming good therapeutic relationships and provide a great deal of psychological support which is highly valued.
“However their ability to do this is increasingly under pressure from high workloads and little funding for professional development.
“Our first analysis found that 7,000 nurses and healthcare assistants often overlooked depression in clinical settings.
“Nurses working in hospital settings and nursing homes correctly identified about four out of 10 people with depression and practice nurses working in primary care correctly identified only one in four people with depression.”
He said a second study by the university examined the ability of nurses to detect distressed patients and found half were missed until distress became severe.
Dr Mitchell said the research discovered a number of reasons that accounted for the situation.
“It may be unrealistic to expect nurses to remember complex criteria for detection of depression or to apply lengthy screening tools.
“In the future we may focus more on who has impaired function and who needs help rather than depression alone,” he added.