We’ve all had them: patients you know would benefit from mental healthcare. It’s hard to find the right words to convince them to seek the help they need, however. Plus, you worry that if you bring it up, you risk your patient becoming defensive.
Research shows that there’s a connection between mental wellness and injury recovery.1 And the way in which healthcare professionals talk about the relationship between injury and mental well-being can have a huge impact on how willing patients are to receive help.2
These four strategies provide a foundation for confidently talking to your patients about mental health in a supportive and compassionate way and providing them with guidance to find a mental health practitioner who is right for them.
From the first appointment, we should discuss with our patients the fact that injuries are stressful and validate the impact injuries can have on day-to-day life. Mental health counseling can help alleviate stress and provide your patients with the resources they need to better manage it.
When you normalize the mental health impact of injuries, patients can recognize from the start that stress may be a part of healing. This way, it won’t be a surprise and they won’t feel alone.
Step 2—Make the Connection
Mental health and physical health are connected.3 Your patient can probably recall times when they felt so stressed out that they experience a headache, muscle tension, or even stomach issues. It’s not a huge leap to then realize stress might also impact their ability to heal an ACL or broken bone.
Work together with your patient to help them make this connection. You can even show them the literature connecting mental well-being to physical health—just be sure to work through it with them to ensure that they understand.
Step 3—Have Your People
Once you’ve made the case for managing the stress of injury, it is critical that you have a list of trusted resources handy. Research local mental health professionals—invite them for a coffee or to talk at the office. Building this relationship will help you feel more comfortable talking about mental healthcare and referring your patients. Psychology Today has a great database where you can search for local professionals to connect with.
Step 4—Follow Up
It’s not enough to just have one conversation about stress and injury and then never bring it up again. Reach out to your patient consistently in a matter-of-fact way. Assess your patient’s stress levels. Find out if they’ve reached out to anyone. Remind them that stress is a normal part of the process and about the mind-body connection.
Additionally, make an effort to stay in touch with the trusted mental-health professional resources you’ve identified and built relationships with.
Talking to our patients about stress in injury recovery doesn’t have to be scary or daunting. Remember these four simple steps to develop a well-rounded approach to recovery that includes both physical, mental, and emotional support.
- Kellezi, B., Coupland, C., Morriss, R., Beckett, K., Joseph, S., Barnes, J. Christie, N., et al. (2017). The impact of psychological factors on recovery from injury: a multicenter cohort study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 52(7): 855–866.
- Chandra, S., Mohammadnezhad, M., & Ward, P. (2018). Trust and communication in a doctor-patient relationship: a literature review. Journal of Healthcare Communications, 3(3.36).
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n/d). Chronic illness & mental health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml