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But do you know their life story?

Conversations are key to helping to change care providers’ assumptions around our patients wit mental health concerns.

Given that we can struggle to have difficult conversations with our closest friends and family, having a conversation with a patient when the issue is mental health can make that challenge seem even greater.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen. It just means we need learn how to be better at it.

“People with mental health problems say they are often seen as ‘crazy’, ‘dangerous’ and/or ‘drug addicts’,” says Patty Yoon, program manager, Mental Health/Urban Health at Providence Health Care, referring to stories patients and families have told her about how they are labelled, even by health-care professionals.

As an organization that is rooted in respect and dignity, we are working to move the dial on how people and their loved ones are engaged with and treated when they come to one of our facilities for support with their mental health. Leaders like Patty are supporting this work by helping to change care providers’ assumptions around mental-health patients through education on the importance of having conversations with patients and families to better understand a person’s story, and involving family as key members of the care team.

“There is plenty of evidence showing family involvement hastens a patient’s recovery from mental illness and substance use while reducing the risk of mortality and the rate of relapse,” says Patty. “Patients see their family as a resource.”

Which means that we need to see families in that same role.

Gaining insight about someone’s life and taking a trauma-informed approach to understand a mental-health issue is so important to understanding someone’s entire story.

“Do you know their life story? Did you corroborate the patient’s story with the people closest to them? Patty says. “Care providers can also ask themselves: “What care would I want if this was my loved one?”

Ultimately, it comes down to compassion, empathy and understanding of the family system. “It must be there,” emphasizes Patty.