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Improving the physical health of the mentally ill

By: Hamish Townsend
17 January, 2013

Severe mental illness is such an obvious and over-riding concern that medical professionals often find it difficult to diagnose and address ongoing physical illnesses,which can quickly spiral out of control.

In order to address this issue the Griffith Health Institute’s Population and Social Health Research Centre has established the activate: mind & body research project in partnership with Queensland Health, General Practice Queensland and the University of Queensland.

Led by Dr Carolyn Ehrlich the activate mind & body research project will improve understanding about the implementation of guidelines by health professionals on how to work with people with severe mental health issues.

Communication issues result in appaling physical health

"People with mental illnesses often find it difficult to explain their physical concerns to a health professional. As a result they have health outcomes which often match those of Aboriginal people," Dr Ehrlich said, referring to the well-documented key indicators of Aboriginal health generally in Australia.

"The dental health of people with severe mental illness is appalling.

"There are so many boundaries to their care; the health system is not conducive to dealing with people with complex concurrent problems who take more time and have more questions. In addition, the professions often can’t agree on who is in charge of the issue."

Local responses

The research component will use two intervention sites with a multi-sector approach to practice reform. Health professionals will complete a pre- and post-intervention survey to ascertain skills and background with health promotion.

After linking datasets and comparing the results with control districts, Dr Ehrlich and her team hope to be able to develop an intervention that supports the adoption of guidelines by healthcare professionals.

"The guidelines need to be locally responsive; they’re not going to cut it if they just sit on the shelf like so many other guidelines," Dr Ehrlich said.

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