Dear Doctor, this is mental health physio – Ace Health Centre, Gold Coast

As physiotherapists, we are trained and taught to assess, diagnose and treat physical condition. So how does Mental health come into it?

The Australian Bureau of statistics reported that in 2014 and 2015, 3.6 million Australians report suffering BOTH mental AND physical conditions simultaneously

They have also found that 34.9% of people with mental illness make use of mental health services.

24.7% of these saw a GP

17.8% saw a psychologist

34.9% saw alternative medical professionals- Including Physiotherapist

The link between physical and mental health is widely accepted yet mental healthcare is often disregarded and overlooked during management of physical healthcare in general setting.

As physiotherapists, we employ a bio-psycho-social model to patient care. Let’s not forget the psycho.

I was fortunate enough to work with Professor Joanne Connaughton for my honours research. Having years of experience in tertiary and rural hospitals and now in an academic role at Notre Dame University, Perth, she is a great advocate for physiotherapists in mental health. I’d highly suggest  you go ahead and read some of her articles.

We know that psychological conditions can contribute to the development of physical problems. But they can also influence the rate of recovery by affecting compliance, attendance, activity modification and much more.

So I put it to you, where do physiotherapists see patients with mental illness?

The answer? Everywhere! My research has found that in QLD, 45% of physiotherapists treat patients with co-morbid mental illness every day. A staggering 82% of us treat these same patients weekly.  This study included physiotherapists from all areas- aged care to private practice, tertiary hospitals to rural. Physiotherapists will treat patients with comorbid mental illness on cardiorespiratory and orthopedic wards.

Physiotherapists in rehabilitation and aged care will treat patients with comorbid mental illness on a daily basis. However, even in patients without comorbid Mental Illness, we still provide reassurance and psychological support for everyone we treat.

At schools where kids are being bullied or are bullies, in women’s health.

Sports teams and elite athletes are not immune. And in a general musculoskeletal population people are affected psychologically on many levels.

The two most common mental illness types experienced in Australia are depression and axiety.

So when treating patinets with mental health issue we concentrate on a few points to get the best outcomes.

  • Be selective – Max 3 exercises
  • Plan with patient – What do they enjoy? When? Where? How many?
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Make the exercises are the patient’s idea
  • Reduce confusion as much as possible
  • Practice at clinic
  • Ensure safe exercises are chosen
  • Keep it simple
  • Plan ahead

We all know how important exercise is in getting over mental health issues. So referring to a psychologist and a physio can help increase outcomes.

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