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Patients need a positive mental attitude

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Few carers would deny that a positive mental attitude can affect recovery from illness, yet little is done to teach it to patients. This strikes me as odd and makes me wonder whether nurses could not routinely offer positive mental attitude (PMA) training to their patients


My own first experience with the phenomenon had a comical flavour. My late grandmother, a dedicated hypochondriac, studied her every ache with great gravity and suddenly complained of chest pains. Her GP examined her and prescribed three little white pills daily – privately confiding to my mum that they were ‘just peppermint’ – a placebo, no less. Sure enough, gran’s pains vanished whenever she took her regular dose and reappeared when she missed a day.
In a more serious case, a deeply religious lady, Mrs Bay, was diagnosed with advanced leukaemia. Most people would have been devastated, but she took it as a sign that God was using her to prove that his love could cure all, and positively bloomed throughout the treatment, which was successful.
It seems unlikely that a positive attitude could, in itself, cure a serious condition. However, I often notice it reduces suffering and fear.
At 65, Mr Barr was diagnosed with three life-threatening conditions simultaneously – mediastinal lymphoma, an aortic aneurysm and a leaking cardiac valve, the latter two inoperable. A problem-solver by nature, he told me he never lost a moment’s sleep over this, regarding it as something ‘outside himself’ like a faulty engine, tap or television. ‘Just another problem like anything else,’ he said casually. Three years on, he’s still alive and unworried.
Whether through problem-solving, placebo, faith or whatever mechanism, PMA seems something nurses could usefully study and teach.

Lesley McHarg is a second-year nursing student in Scotland

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