Specialist palliative care nurses’ management of the needs of patients with depression

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 2017, 23 (6), pp. 298 - 305
Issue Date:
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© 2017 MA Healthcare Ltd. Background: Depression is an important condition to consider if we are to optimise the care outcomes for patients with palliative care needs. Depression has a high incidence in palliative patients, with up to 15% diagnosed with major depression and 37% expressing some form of depressive symptoms (O'Connor et al, 2010). The challenge is to ensure that palliative care patients with depression are identified in a timely manner and that their depression is effectively managed. Aim: To examine how Australian specialist inpatient palliative care nurses perceive, assess and respond to depression in a patient case study. Method: This descriptive pilot study is a replication of a United States study by Little et al (2005), exploring contemporary Australian specialist palliative care nurses’ screening, assessment and management of depression in people with a progressive life-limiting illness. A survey titled ‘Specialist palliative care nurses managing patients with complex care needs’ questioned the nursing assessment, knowledge and clinical care priorities related to a case vignette of a patient demonstrating signs of depression. Results: A total of 33 nurses completed this survey. Less than half (39.4%) of the participants identified depression as a major issue arising from the case vignette. Depression screening tools were not widely known. Functionality assessments measuring activities of daily living were the most recognised and widely used tools by participants. Conclusion: This small sample pilot study demonstrated that specialist palliative care nurses are still not confident in their screening and responding to a patient with depression. The available evidenced based depression screening tools were unfamiliar to these nurses and not widely used which can result in depression remaining undetected and undermanaged. The connections between physical health and mental health need stronger recognition and response within nursing care of palliative patients.
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