Here’s How Every PA Can Play a Role in Mental Healthcare

Free Webinar to Address PA Treatment of Mental Health (previously recorded)

May 2, 2022

Megan Pinder headshot
Megan Pinder, MMS, PA-C

Megan Pinder, MMS, PA-C, works for Wake Forest Baptist Health as a psychiatric PA in various settings, including inpatient, emergency medicine, and telemedicine. She helps to meet psychiatric needs for patients with complex medical issues on the medical floor. In addition, she works part-time at urgent care centers. She is very passionate about disparities in healthcare, especially among psychiatric patients. She has been an advocate for psychiatric patients both personally and professionally throughout her life.

Pinder led the fourth of AAPA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion webinars called “Is Mental Health the Forgotten Pandemic?” Here she responds to several general questions about PAs’ role in mental health, how access, socioeconomic status, and stigma impact patient mental health, and how to advocate for mental health patients.

Watch Webinar

What role do you see PAs playing in mental health?
I can see PAs playing a role in multiple aspects of mental healthcare. Currently, there are many PAs who  do inpatient psychiatric care, consult services, outpatient care, and substance abuse treatment. Many times, we work hand-in-hand with a team of people including therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists. As mental health treatment evolves to become more reliable and efficient for our patients, PAs can continue to take on roles to lead these efforts and expand the availability of providers in this field. I hope that we will be able to play a role in bridging mental health treatment with other health domains.

What tools can PAs use to address mental health regardless of the specialty in which they practice?
One big thing that PAs can do is to have a list of resources available in your community. Mental health resources can vary based on the area that you live in. Some areas may have more resources than others. Being prepared for patients with a multitude of needs can be difficult. However, if you have information on hand to give to patients to point them in a helpful direction, that can be life changing for some people.

Additionally, look for signs of mental illness and substance abuse. It is also helpful to use our training to do screenings. Many times, it just takes spending a little time to hear about your patient’s needs.

How do access, socioeconomic status, and stigma impact the care of mental health patients?
Unfortunately, all of these things have the potential to negatively impact the mental health of individual patients. Access to care is one of the biggest barriers and can be influenced by socioeconomic status. Many of the patients who lack the socioeconomic means to travel for healthcare are stuck with the resources available in that area.

Telemedicine has been a huge benefit for access. However, there are many people I see who are at severe socioeconomic disadvantage and do not even have a phone or computer to access telemedicine as a resource. At my current job, there are no facilities that provide medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for substance abuse. In this area, there are also very high rates of substance abuse and the need for MAT is great. I hope that in the future we can find realistic ways to provide solutions and community support to people who are unable access the healthcare they need.

Mental health stigma is a significant barrier to treatment as well. Stigma within certain communities and families may be an initial reason that many people are hesitant to acknowledge their need for mental healthcare. For people who overcome these stigmas and seek out help, my hope is that they do not meet that same stigma from the people they seek help from. Our jobs can be difficult, and it is easy to become complacent and lose empathy. However, we cannot forget that we are here to do no harm. That means that we must do our best to understand that a person’s mental health is as important to address as other health conditions.

How do you personally advocate for psychiatric patients?
Personally, I try to do everything I can to advocate for my patients. From working to get them appropriate psychiatric treatment to making sure that other health needs are addressed, we have to treat the whole patient. Sometimes my patients may have medical needs that are causing their psychiatric presentation. In these cases, it is good to understand how to treat these underlying issues and to ask for help when needed. I ask for a lot of help from the social workers to the nutritionists, nurses, and consulting providers to make sure patients get the care they need.

I also try to educate my colleagues as much as I can when they ask for assistance with their patients. Many of the people I work with are very invested in the overall care of their patients and it is awesome when I get questions from them about psychiatry and patient care.

Lastly, I listen to my patients and what they need. If they have trouble communicating their needs because of their psychiatric or cognitive state, I do my best to figure out what those needs are by finding alternative ways for them to express what they need or by contacting people who are close with the patient for assistance.

Are there any other resources you think will be helpful for PAs besides attending your webinar?
Know the available screening tools for psychiatric conditions. be aware of resources specific to your community. Take the (MAT) waiver training. And, take advantage of the webinar!

Watch the DEI Webinar “Is Mental Health the Forgotten Pandemic?”

Originally published August 13, 2021

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