Factors contributing to these negative perceptions are:11
- Lack of knowledge
- Less professional experience
- No familiarity (i.e. no friends or relatives with mental illness)
Conversely, increased mental health education and more experience with mental illness can influence a healthcare provider’s attitude in a positive direction. Nurse educators are tasked with providing a mental health education that fosters inclusivity, empathy, and respect for patients suffering from mental illness.
“The most important thing a nursing program can do to prepare nurses to care for patients with mental illness is to teach them that mental health issues are widespread among the population and that someone with mental illness deserves the same care, compassion, and respect as any other patient,” says Mary Wickman, RN, PhD, University of Southern California in Costa Mesa.12 In addition, educators should be debunking myths – especially in regard to violence among the mentally ill. Only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.13
Preparation for nursing students is awareness. By exposing learners to common behaviors and symptoms associated with mental illness, their perceptions of what a mentally ill patient “looks like” or “acts like” will gradually shift from stigma to reality.
Simulation benefits learners in this regard because it provides an opportunity to introduce less common events that may not be seen in a traditional clinical placement.14 Virtual simulation, specifically, is proven to be a consistent and effective method of training nurses. Research has shown that up to 60% better consistency of learning can be achieved through technology-based training.15 Each scenario requires learners to gather the patient history and practice patient-centered care. The learning experience promotes the development of critical-thinking and decision-making skills, while also giving learners a “real life” experience with mental illness.