Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Living with chronic illness is difficult for many reasons, one being the different ways it can negatively impact mental health. Many of the patients with chronic illnesses who receive palliative care from our Advanced Illness Management (AIM) program also deal with mental health issues, most commonly anxiety and depression stemming from their condition and the loss of former abilities. And with the increasing collective concerns caused by the global spread of COVID-19, mental health symptoms may be exacerbated. With the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis’ comprehensive AIM program, patients’ mental health and wellness are prioritized along with their physical care. AIM Clinical Physician, Dr. Fox shares some of the things she encounters working with patients in this palliative care program.
“Most patients are looking towards their mortality coming sooner rather than later. It could be one to two years or it could be less than that. So they do tend to have some anxiety and depression related to that and I certainly address it,” says Dr. Fox.
There are several ways the Visiting Nurse Association addresses mental health for AIM patients including the use of geriatric assessment tools can screen for certain mental health conditions, medication prescribed to treat anxiety or depression, counseling, and good support and communication from the patients’ family and caregivers. For the most severe cases that can’t be treated with medication and other traditional methods of support, there are community partners who will come into the patient’s home for in-home counseling. Our skilled care team of physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers, spiritual counselors and volunteers all add to the care patients receive and can positively impact their mental health. In addition to the VNA AIM team approach, Dr. Fox also shares that she may call a patient’s primary care physician to discuss a patient’s condition and see if they can work together to come up with a plan.
“My expertise is medical, so for me it’s just recognizing that, when people are going through some difficult times in their physical health, they may be struggling emotionally. When spiritual crises are a concern, I ask our spiritual counselors to intervene. Social workers help patients and families with situations such as trouble paying bills or not having a power of attorney set up. So that is why we have this team approach,” she says.
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