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Examining the vital role of psychiatric nurse practitioners in academic settings

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As mental health conditions increase nationwide, it is no surprise that the role of psychiatric nurse practitioners is no longer limited to the hospital’s four walls. Now more than ever, competent psychiatric nurse practitioners are needed in various sectors to support individuals with cognitive health issues in navigating challenges and enhancing their quality of life.

Exploring the demand

One industry where psychiatric nurse practitioners are in demand is the academic sector. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in every three high school students suffers from poor mental health. What makes this even worse is that only 40% of these students graduate from high school.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with students, administrators, teachers, and faculty members to better identify the root cause of an individual’s distress and ensure they receive appropriate treatment in an emotionally safe environment. Depending on their training, professional background, and the academic institution they are working at, psychiatric nurse practitioners also perform the following duties to create an atmosphere of learning and personal development within educational settings.

Provide direct patient care

Mental health issues impact every component of student life. Low self-esteem results in decreased motivation and a lack of confidence when taking tests or completing tasks. Anxiety can make it challenging for students to study or attend classes. Oh, and good old depression can lead to decreased focus and concentration, making it difficult for everyone involved to remain engaged or complete work on time.

Left unaddressed, students with mental health challenges can experience adverse outcomes that could potentially impact their long-term career prospects. Psychiatric nurse practitioners taking Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner programs at established academic institutions such as Wilkes University help students recognize and address these challenges. For example, studying on an MSN-Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program can teach students how to deal with mental health issues through culturally diverse health perspectives and a focus on primary care for all ages through clinical healthcare.

When a student’s unique needs are recognized, understood, and supported, psychiatric nurse practitioners can empower them to showcase their strengths and reach their true potential. Depending on the student’s needs, psychiatric nurse practitioners provide direct patient care through the following means.

Conduct comprehensive mental health assessments

Psychiatric nurse practitioners conduct a comprehensive mental health assessment to identify factors that are contributing to the student’s mental health condition. It includes asking students for their medical and psychiatric histories and evaluating patient issues in different settings.

The components of a mental health assessment will depend on the patient’s specific case. But more often than not, psychiatric nurse practitioners will perform a psychological examination, physical tests, and laboratory tests such as blood and urine work.

Offer counseling and therapy sessions

Using numerous psychotherapy methods, psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide students, administrators, and faculty members with one-on-one and group counseling sessions to provide support and guidance for navigating academic challenges. Some techniques they use during therapy and counseling sessions are cognitive behavior therapy, task-centered practice, and active listening.

By providing specialized counseling services, psychiatric nurse practitioners can help students and academic staff members learn about managing stress, improve work management, and build confidence. The last one is especially significant for students, considering they must build self-confidence to embrace their full potential inside and outside the school.

Administer medications

Depending on the state of their academic institution, psychiatric nurse practitioners may administer medications to students and academic staff dealing with mental illness symptoms to improve their quality of life. When administering medications, psychiatric nurse practitioners are responsible for informing patients and their families about the drug’s purpose, dosage, and side effects.

Connect patients with resources

More often than not, students suffering from mental health issues have little to no access to quality care. Since psychiatric nurse practitioners collaborate with multiple professionals, they can assist students in finding the needed help.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners assist students in various ways, from locating mental health services to providing referrals for advanced mental healthcare. By connecting patients with quality care, psychiatric nurse practitioners can ensure students access the resources they need to grow and participate entirely in academic settings. It increases the likelihood of students standing up for themselves and dealing with their issues head-on instead of ignoring them.

Develop personalized care and treatment plans

Establishing tailored mental healthcare and treatment plans is another way for psychiatric nurse practitioners to make a difference in academic settings. While it may not seem like it, every patient’s treatment plan is unique, even if they are experiencing similar symptoms.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners develop treatment and care plans by identifying the student’s mental health needs, the goal they would like to work towards, and the support they might require to achieve their objectives. Once the goals and the support needed to achieve them have been established, they start writing a mental health treatment plan.

While standards can vary when developing a treatment plan, they usually include patient data, diagnostic summaries, problems, and objectives. They often use the following checklist to ensure they get all the necessary information from students:

Issues: Do the problems reflect domains connected to social status, medical status, psychiatric status, school pressures, and other external factors?

Goals: Do the outlined objectives resolve the listed problems? Can they be accomplished during treatment? Does the student understand the goals as written? Can they achieve their goals?

Objectives: Are the goals specific and measurable? Can the student take the required steps to complete their goals? Is there a timetable for each goal? Does the student understand what is expected of them?

Interventions: How will the psychiatric nurse practitioner help students achieve their goals and objectives? Is the student ready to cooperate in the necessary steps to work towards their established goals? Are they willing to accept and participate in treatment options and interventions?

Once the treatment and care plans have been established, psychiatric nurse practitioners must continuously monitor the student’s condition and adjust accordingly to ensure treatment success.

Promote mental health wellness and well-being

Student mental health is worsening in almost every metric. A recent study reveals that more than 60% of students suffered from at least one mental health condition during the 2020–2021 academic year.

It is terrifying because mental health illnesses can adversely impact multiple areas of students’ lives and result in more significant issues such as reduced quality of life and terrible physical health. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with teachers and administrators to promote mental health, wellness, and well-being by incorporating the following strategies to improve student success.

Create a positive learning environment

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide a positive learning environment where students feel safe making mistakes and taking risks. It includes promoting classroom activities that highlight collaboration rather than competition.

Additionally, they can also establish open communication between students and teachers to promote trust and create a collaborative and empowering atmosphere for healing and learning. This way, they can enhance cognitive, emotional, and social development among students while helping them achieve a sense of belonging.

Offer solutions to bullying

Bullying in school has rapidly increased over the past five years. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can introduce anti-bullying themes into the curriculum to get ahead of issues. They can also organize workshops and events that enable students to see bullying in action. Doing so prevents students from becoming bullies and educates them on identifying and preventing bullying involving their classmates.

Help teachers identify students struggling with mental health issues

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can provide teachers and administrators with sufficient training to help identify students struggling with mental health conditions. Contrary to popular belief, mental health conditions can be challenging to detect because symptoms often vary widely and manifest differently in each individual.

Making things worse is the social stigma surrounding mental health that can lead to students hiding their struggles and further complicating recognition. When teachers identify at-risk students, they can encourage them to communicate and express their emotions and struggles while ensuring they feel supported.

Nurture social and emotional skills

Emotional and social learning is a critical component of mental health education. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can help students identify and express their feelings by nurturing social and emotional skills. It allows them to regulate their emotions and needs better.

When students express their emotions freely, they can build positive relationships to support their mental health and provide a buffer against future stress and adversity. It is especially important for building resilience and preventing mental health disorders later in life.

Provide mental health education

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can offer information and resources about mental health to reduce the stigma and inspire students to get the help they need. They can do this through workshops, presentations, and several outreach activities.

When students understand and recognize the importance of mental health, they can become more proactive in seeking help when needed, encourage open conversations, and promote a supportive community. Comprehensive mental health education can also provide students with tools and strategies for managing stress, building resilience, and maintaining overall well-being amidst academic pressure.

Work with parents and the community

A psychiatric nurse practitioner’s role goes beyond the four walls of an academic institution. They also work with parents and guardians to determine the student’s emotional and behavioral issues. After conducting an in-depth biopsychosocial assessment, they can share the student’s care needs and help parents identify and access the school and community programs their children require to grow and shine.

Parents, guardians, and families are significant factors in student success. Psychiatric nurse practitioners assist parents in guiding their children as they adjust to school. They can also provide family education on distinct academic processes, student mental health, and development. Moreover, they can help find programs that address the functional needs of students with disabilities.

By working with parents, psychiatric nurse practitioners can alleviate stress and enable students to function more effectively in school and in the community. Besides working with parents, psychiatric nurse practitioners can also collaborate with their respective communities to help their school districts receive sufficient support from social and mental health agencies. Nurses can support the connection between the school, students, parents, and the community by advocating for these mental health initiatives.

Shape mental health policy within academic settings

Advocacy is among the core pillars of becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Since they face mental health issues within academic settings daily, psychiatric nurse practitioners are uniquely positioned to reduce the stigma of cognitive problems.

Every school environment has a different way of viewing mental health. Several communities view mental health issues as weaknesses to be hidden. It makes it more difficult for students struggling to open up and seek help. This stigma often results in lawmakers putting band-aids on the crux of the issues instead of establishing permanent solutions that could positively impact the academic environment.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can become policy advocates who help these lawmakers understand the symptoms and find ways to support students suffering from mental health issues. As frontline healthcare members engaging with various student experiences, psychiatric nurse practitioners are crucial in communicating how existing policies impact student mental healthcare.

Using their influence in establishing mental health policies, psychiatric nurse practitioners can encourage ways to reduce the mental health crisis and improve care at a policy level. On a deeper level, psychiatric nurse practitioners can integrate mental health into educational policies by helping school administrators recognize the connection between mental health and academic success.

It includes working towards policies that support implementing preventive mental health programs. By highlighting early intervention and other coping strategies, psychiatric nurse practitioners can build resilience among students, teachers, and school administrators while reducing the incidence of mental health issues.

Working towards a meaningful psychiatric nurse practitioner career

As the current healthcare system becomes overburdened by the sudden increase in mental health issues, the need for competent individuals to help students navigate challenges becomes more critical. Become that expert by working towards a meaningful psychiatric nurse practitioner career and assisting students to live meaningful lives.

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