Working as a mental health provider in a hospital setting can be a challenging and at times intimidating experience, especially for early career professionals and trainees. Medical professionals run the gambit from accepting and welcoming to unaccepting and unwelcoming of mental health services. As an example, I had one Attending Physician within the past year tell me “I just don’t believe in that mental stuff,” as I prepared to consult him on a patient struggling with medication adherence.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are many physicians who not only welcome us as mental health service providers, but use our thoughts and evaluations to guide many of the medical choices they make for their patients.
And then, there is the majority who fall somewhere in the middle.
Point being: If you are on a mental health consult service in a hospital, you don’t know what kind of reaction your practice is going to evoke in the medical provider.
With that in mind, a few quick tips have helped me to navigate the hospital landscape over the past 5 years.
- Be an active voice. Mental health is important and it is often the role of the mental health provider to advocate for mental health when no one else will. No matter the situation, advocate for a patient’s mental health and don’t back down from your thoughts. Mental health should have an equal seat at the table as any other service and many professionals will respect your opinion if spoken and backed up with facts and data. Moreover, negative opinions of mental health will not change until we are willing to stand up for our field.
- Ask questions. As mental health providers we are often “left in the dark” about many of the medical problems our patients are facing. Terms and phrases in the chart or spoken in rounds may seem very foreign. Find a friendly face on the medical team and ask. Often something we don’t understand may be very important and our advice may make a medical problem better for the patient.
- Educate! It is important that medical professionals know what we do and know that mental health is more than relaxation exercises and deep breathing. It is the responsibility of all of us to help other professionals know what we are capable of and how we can assist with the overall care of the patient. In fact, giving others this knowledge will also help in the future, as medical professionals will know what to expect and how the mental health team can assist the patient.
- Remember who you are serving. At the end of the day, we are all there to help the patient. Keeping this in mind will keep you grounded and give you the courage to speak up when necessary and also to reframe some of the reactions other professionals may have to you. Hospitals are stressful, fast paced settings where all providers work hard to provide solid care in a timely manner. So another professional being brusque or off-putting may simply be a matter of that individual thinking of the patient and treatment goals. Keeping that in mind will make your life easier.
These tips will hopefully help mental health providers understand and navigate the hospital setting. In summary, we know that mental health is crucial to patient care and that mental health services are a vital organ of any hospital. Through education and active advocating, mental health services in hospitals will continue to grow and in turn, help more patients feel better.