Mental health takeover: How UEA student healthcare professionals take a ‘whole person’ approach to care

The distinctive Ziggurat Norfolk Terrace accomodation block of the UEA. Photo: Denise Bradley

The distinctive Ziggurat Norfolk Terrace accomodation block of the UEA. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: Eastern Daily Press, Archant

Student healthcare professionals training in Norwich take a whole person approach to care, says. Jane Blowers, professional lead pre-registration nursing, School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia.

Mental health and wellbeing are intrinsic to every UEA Health Sciences programme – not only to equip our students to deal with the needs of their future patients or clients, but also to help ensure they have the tools to handle the personal demands they'll face during their careers.

As undergraduates entering a profession where they'll encounter many stressful situations, healthcare students require resilience to be effective practitioners, which means that developing coping strategies and having the ability to self-reflect are essential qualities. Through a combination of modules, reflection exercises, self-help tools and support networks, we enable students to develop these skills throughout their undergraduate careers.

All healthcare professionals, whether mental health nurses or paramedics, adult nurses or occupational therapists, will support people with mental health issues on an almost daily basis.

While we're all used to being encouraged to look after our physical health through diet and exercise, mental health is equally important to our overall wellbeing. It's why we teach students to look at the 'whole person' by examining the potential psychological and social causes of any symptoms a patient presents with to ensure that they find the root cause of the issue.

Mental health plays an important role in many conditions, such as musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and digestive problems, and that's something you wouldn't discover without asking the right questions, leading to long-term illness and potentially devastating effects.

This holistic approach is fundamental to delivering excellent, compassionate care, even in pressurised environments. Sadly there can still be a reluctance to seek help for mental health problems so it's important to encourage people to talk – a challenge when the time with each patient is limited.

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At a time when more and more people are facing problems relating to their mental health, healthcare professionals must be able to meet the needs of everyone, whether that's a teenager with severe anxiety or an older person with dementia - and to ensure that they can cope with the emotional challenges that presents. Being in a position to make a difference to people's lives is what makes healthcare such a rewarding career.

• For more from the EDP's special mental health takeover edition, click here.