"Do you know their life story?" Patient- and family-centred care for those with mental-health issues

Feb 8, 2018 | News

Patty Yoon (L), urges caregivers to avoid assumptions about mental-health patientsPatty Yoon (L), urges caregivers to avoid assumptions about mental-health patients

It is well known that caregivers can find it difficult to have honest conversations with patients and their loved ones.

When the medical issue is mental health, the challenge can be that much bigger, Patty Yoon, Program Manager, Mental Health/Urban Health at Providence Health Care, told at a webinar recently.

“People with mental health problems say they are often seen as 'crazy', 'dangerous' and/or 'drug addicts'," she said, referring to stories patients and families have told her about how they are labelled, even by health-care professionals.  And that adds to the stigma they may already experience in their lives. 

But as with everything related to patient- and family-centred care, it’s important for care providers to treat mental-health patients and their loved ones with respect and dignity just as they would any other patient; and to view them as essential members of the health-care team.

Yoon was invited to give her thoughts on the topic as part of the webinar by the International Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC), a non-profit organization based in Maryland. She co-presented with Mary Minniti, Senior Policy & Program Specialist at the IPFCC. 

Yoon said there is plenty of evidence showing family involvement hastens a patient’s recovery from mental illness and substance use, while reducing the risk of mortality and the rate of relapse. “The patient sees the family as a resource,” she told audience members who participated by webinar or in person at St. Paul’s Hospital’s Cullen Family Lecture Theatre.

But if feedback from patients and families is any indication, a lot of work is needed to change the treatment style of mental-health patients, she noted.

“Many patients say they are seen as liars and manipulators,” said Yoon. “They feel ‘no one believes me’; they think (people assume) ‘I’m just drug seeking’ or they feel no one understands their suffering.”

Yoon said there has to be a change of care providers’ assumptions around mental-health patients.

For instance:

  • Assume patients are the experts about their experiences and that they have the information you need to act on.
  • Know that families are vital partners in a patient’s experience and that their participation is essential.

She urges care provides to take the time to get to know people’s personal backgrounds.

“Do you know their life story? Do you corroborate the patient’s story with the people closest to them?”

Gaining insight about their lives and taking a trauma informed approach to understand their mental –health issue is important. So make sure to listen and to know what it may be like to look through the patient’s lens, she says.

Care providers can also ask themselves: “What care would I want if this was my loved one?”

“Compassion, empathy and understanding of the family system must be there.”

Care Experience

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