Health promotion targeted in mental illness treatment

The poor physical and oral health of people with a severe mental illness is in the sights of researchers at the Griffith Health Institute.

Professor Elizabeth Kendall (pictured) from the Population and Social Health Research Program

at Griffith University is leading a study into how efficiently new guidelines for health professionals can be put into practice to benefit people with mental illnesses.

The complex guidelines are part of ‘Activate Mind and Body’, a joint initiative launched by Queensland Health and General Practice Queensland, aimed at improving the physical and oral health of people with severe mental illness.

The project is focused on health promotion in areas like eating healthy, getting active, drinking sensibly and reducing smoking. The importance of healthy teeth and gums is also highlighted, as are regular visits to the doctor.

Through a collaboration of GPs, clinicians, carers and mental health services, ‘Activate Mind and Body’ aims to build the capacity of our health system to support people with severe mental illness through improved treatment and better management of their physical and oral health.

“By using a proactive and systematic approach, we will improve the likelihood that new guidelines will become embedded in standard health practice,” Professor Kendall said.

“Implementation of new practices has been slow, difficult and often unsuccessful, but we will be applying the latest theories about the factors that facilitate change.”

Professor Kendall’s research, funded by the Australian Research Council, will investigate the attitudes of health professionals towards health promotion when working with people who have severe mental illness.

“An improved understanding of these attitudes will help us to determine the potential impact that new practices can have on physical and oral health outcomes for people with severe mental illness,” she said.

“We need a sustainable solution, an easy-to-use method which is cost-effective.”

Research Fellow Dr Carolyn Ehrlich has started collecting data from health professionals across Queensland to develop an understanding of their attitudes and skills in relation to promoting health among people with severe mental illness.

The research will run over the next three years and will focus on general practitioners, community workers, mental health workers and allied health professionals.

“The factors that influence how professionals operate are extremely complex, so it is important to understand the specific context within which each professional group functions,” Dr Ehrlich said.

“These contexts differ significantly across metropolitan, rural and regional areas.”

The physical and oral health outcomes of people with a severe mental illness are much worse than that of the general population.

These high rates of morbidity and mortality among people with severe mental illness are often driven by factors such as poor lifestyle choices, medications and limited access to health advice and care.