Background: The life expectancy of patients with severe mental illness (SMI) is estimated to be 20 to 30 years shorter than in the general population due to avoidable physical illnesses. This gap is widening. Health care professionals’ performance with regard to physical health and lifestyle appears to be suboptimal.
Aims: The purpose of this study is to formulate recommendations to enhance physical care for patients with an SMI.
Methods: A generic descriptive qualitative study was conducted. Fifteen mental health nurses (MHNs) working in community mental health care in the Netherlands were interviewed. Thematic analysis of the data was performed.
Results: Most MHNs perceived physical screening and lifestyle interventions to be an important part of their professional role. However, they recognize discrepancy between their perception and actual practice. Most MHNs focus in particular on the psychiatric illness and its consequences for daily living, and they defined the provision of physical health care as a secondary concern. Participants described building a therapeutic relationship as a crucial, however, difficult part of the process of working on physical health promotion. Many MHNs tend to formulate goals and necessary behavioral changes on behalf of their
patients, rather than helping them formulate their own goals and activities for themselves.
Conclusions: Building a good therapeutic relationship with patients and supporting patients in defining their own lifestyle goals can enhance nursing physical care. Support by other team members (such as NPs) and managers is needed. In training and education for professionals, the lessons learned in this study should be included.