Nurses ready to help in mental-health crises
Strengthening mental health services -
Not all emergencies that arrive at Prince Edward Island’s largest hospital involve physical health.
For those who show up at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital emergency department with a mental health crisis, Sasha O’Hanley and her colleagues are the first point of contact. O’Hanley is one of three mental health crisis response nurses who provide mental health services and intervention from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 365 days a year.
“What one person calls a crisis may not be what another person calls a crisis, but they all need help,” she said. “It can be someone who is suicidal and needs a serious intervention, or it can be someone who is overwhelmed by daily life and needs a person to talk to and could benefit from the counselling services at our community clinics.”
Crisis response nurses use evidence-based practices and assessment skills to determine whether a patient may pose a risk to themselves or others. Each member of the team is a registered nurse with a specialization in mental health care.
“We have people arrive for treatment, and sometimes in triage it comes out that they need assistance with a mental illness or an emotional issue,” O’Hanley said. “My role is to work with the doctors and nurses to evaluate that person and to help them find the assistance they need.”
The work requires mental health crisis response nurses to work closely with doctors and nurses in the emergency room as well as with the other mental health workers of the QEH. Crisis response involves a collaborative process among the nurse, the emergency physician, and the psychiatrist, who collaboratively make decisions to admit a patient to a unit or have them followed up in the community.
After six years providing front-line mental health interventions, and 13 previous years in mental health and addictions nursing, O’Hanley has come to recognize that mental health needs range widely but that they are all intensely real to people in pain.
O’Hanley said the job is a challenge every day, but that she can go home each night feeling she has helped someone in crisis find help. The job involves balancing the need to see that each patient’s immediate needs are met, while staying organized to ensure they all receive the right assessment for appropriate referral to community therapists and psychiatrists.
“There can be anywhere from one to 15 people who need my help every day and each one can potentially need hours. It can be overwhelming,” she said.
“You have to be a good listener, and you have to be able to match their needs with the help that’s available.”