Advice to others: Health, mental health and allied health professionals

People who experience severe mental health problems often come into contact with a range of different health, mental health and allied health professionals including GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and case workers. These interactions can occur over a long period of time, and within many different areas of the health system, including mental health and allied health systems. As a result, people with lived experience of severe mental health problems have unique insights that can help improve how health, mental health and allied health professionals treat and care for people with similar psychiatric diagnoses.

The people we spoke to described their relationships with health, mental health and allied health professionals as important to them, and spoke about what mattered to them in those relationships. This included continuity of care, a personalised approach, attention to language and provision of relevant information, and a person-focused approach.

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Personalised, continuous care
Language and Information
A person-centred approach


Gurvinder wants health care professionals to listen to and understand people’s experiences, and thinks people should have more say in their care and treatment.

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Personalised, continuous care

Continuity of care was important to many people we talked to. They felt it was necessary for the development of therapeutic relationships, and for ‘trust’ to be established within those relationships. Many people wanted assurance that they were not just a ‘number’, and for health professionals to ask them how they were instead of simply focusing on their symptoms. Paddy felt that through ‘active listening’ health and mental health professionals would have a better sense of people’s ‘needs’ and ‘passions’. A few people wanted health and mental health professionals to take an active interest in those they were treating and caring for.

Brendan recognised the pressures health and mental health professionals were under, but felt small actions could demonstrate they were ‘invested’ in people’s care.

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Chris described his doctor as ‘honest’ and ‘friendly’. He appreciates not having to continually tell his ‘life story’ to different health professionals.

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Some people felt there was a lack of ‘care’ and ‘compassion’ on the part of health, mental health and service providers, and said that this had a negative impact on their sense of self. Alice felt that ‘listening’ and ’empathy’ on the part of health and mental health professionals contributed to the development of the ‘therapeutic relationship’.

Paddy contrasted his psychiatrist, who treats him with ’empathy’, with some other mental health professionals who seemed to have a ‘superiority complex’.

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Some people said it was important for health and mental health professionals to ‘interact’ with the people they were caring for. For Helen, this involved understanding people’s ‘goals’ or ‘motivating them’ in hospital, rather than leaving them ‘just sitting there and moping’. It was important for many people that the therapeutic relationship did not end in the consulting room or hospital. Follow-up phone calls on the part of health and mental health professionals when someone was unwell or to ask why an appointment was missed were considered helpful and a sign to people that they were being supported.

Helen appreciated her psychologist’s offer to phone her in a few weeks to see how she was going.

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A few people thought that greater involvement in decision making in relation to their treatment was integral to building trust and establishing collaborative relationships with health and mental health professionals (see also Support in treatment decisions, and How to increase participation in treatment decisions).

Being ‘involved in decision making’ was very important to David. He thought building collaborative relationships with health and mental health professionals would enable this.

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Language and Information

A few people wanted health and mental health professionals to be more careful with the language they used when treating and caring for people with experience of a mental health problem. Delivering a diagnosis sensitively (see Experience of receiving a diagnosis) and taking the time to explain particular decisions were nominated as areas where people felt health and mental health professionals could improve.

Ann felt that psychiatrists should take more care when delivering a diagnosis and recognise that it might be distressing for the person receiving the news.

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Bernadette wants health professionals to use ‘clear’ language when talking to people about their mental health and to explain why particular treatment decisions are made so they can discuss this together.

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Making sure that people were given information about support services was nominated by several people as important. Luana thought that a brochure should be given to people warning them about the risk of depression following a period of hospitalisation (see Hospitalisation: Being admitted and leaving and also Hospitalisation: daily life and treatment).

Luana argued that not only people with mental health problems but also their family members should be given information when they leave hospital about potential problems they may face and the availability of support services.

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A person-centred approach

Many people advised health and mental health professionals to treat people experiencing severe mental health problems as individuals who had their own lives, and to take the time to understand their experience. Susana wanted health and mental health practitioners to ‘look at the social side’ of people’s lives and their ‘wellbeing and things like that’. A few people wanted health and mental health professionals to take a more holistic approach to treatment and care, arguing that the ‘medical model’ was too limited. Cindy felt that they should listen to people diagnosed with a mental illness because they ‘know what’s happening to them best’. For Michelle, it was important for those involved in the treatment and care of people to ‘really listen’ and ‘get the full picture’.

Alice advises health and mental health professionals to recognise their ‘model’ may not work for everyone.

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Carlo felt that a physician who he visited because he was worried about his heart should have explored other dimensions of his health instead of focusing exclusively on the physical aspects.

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Focusing more on the person and their experiences rather than the symptoms was one way of being more holistic that was suggested.

Anna preferred the more ‘holistic’ person-centred approach used by community support services over the medical model used by psychiatrists and nurses. She wants health and mental health professionals to be more focused on the person.

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