Brendon Stubbs says physio staff can play a key in improving the overall health of those with mental illness
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives, whether it is depression, an addiction or a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
Mental illness often has a significant impact on an individual’s health, creating significant levels of morbidity and mortality.
Last autumn the charity Rethink Mental Illness published a report titled Lethal discrimination: Why people with mental illness are dying needlessly and what needs to change. This states that individuals with mental illness typically die about 20 years prematurely (Visit Rethink Mental Illness.com and search for ‘lethal’).
In response to growing concerns, the Department of Health recently released a pledge stating that mental health services must have parity with physical healthcare.
This elevated mortality level is largely attributable to the high prevalence of physical health problems (particularly cardiovascular disease and obesity) among people with a mental health condition.
However, treatment is available and our research has identified that physiotherapists are key in addressing the physical health needs of these individuals.
In non-mental health settings, physios are widely acknowledged as leading the way in addressing these physical health problems.
However, the consideration of our role in academic literature and official reports in reducing such common comorbidities in people with mental illness is scarce, and unjustly so.
The reality is that physios have successfully worked in mental health settings for many decades but research has only recently started to ‘prove’ the extensive benefits we bring.
For example, a recent review by Davy Vancampfort and colleagues found that physiotherapy interventions lead to a reduction in psychiatric symptoms and psychological distress, and improves quality of life in individuals with schizophrenia.
Other research has shown that physios can identify important barriers and avenues to physical activity. Encouraging higher levels of physical activity is an essential component in tackling many of these physical health conditions.
Some colleagues and I are building on this research and defining our role in mental health by drawing on the experience of members of the International Organisation of Physical Therapists in Mental Health (a sub-group of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy).
This work shows that physios have a diverse role and act as a key bridge between physical and mental health while being integral in health promotion efforts.
The research also emphasised that working with people with mental illness is a task for all – not just those in mental health settings.
It is likely that this month, regardless of the setting in which you work, you will come across a person with a mental illness.
The reality is that physiotherapy has much to offer people with mental illness and we can all play a central role in improving the health of people with mental illness. Brendon Stubbs, physio and PhD candidate, University of Greenwich
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