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How mental health support and family nursing practice intersect



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The medical professionals involved in full family practice, particularly the family nurse practitioners, take on diverse activities and are usually made to wear different caps as required. One of the many caps they wear is providing mental health support to their patients.

The potential of the family nurse practitioner to contribute to family practice through physical care and mental health care is quite high, and it’s necessary to look into it. Family nurse practitioners can synthesize several practice roles into one. When we hear about family nurse practitioners, what readily comes to mind is every other aspect of family health, but not necessarily mental health. However, with the new wave of changes hitting the healthcare delivery system, mental health support has become an important aspect of family nursing practice. Now, experienced family nurse practitioners can provide direct care for patients’ psychological and physical needs in the family practice setting in which they find themselves.

In this article, we break down the intersection of mental health support and general family health practice and draw out some important aspects of the general practice. We also highlight some of the important roles that family health professionals play in ensuring that they optimize the treatments that their patients get.

Overview of family nursing practice

It is essential to have a comprehensive overview of family nursing practice. From that point, it becomes much easier to understand how mental health support comes to play. The scope of the typical family nurse practitioner’s practice is diverse to a certain extent. This allows for career mobility, practice in different clinical settings, and specialization within the right patient demographic.

A family nurse practitioner is simply a registered nurse who is trained and certified according to very strict national standards. What makes the difference is that registered nurses will typically evaluate patients and carry out treatments according to the MD’s plan. Family nurse practitioners, however, can diagnose and independently prescribe with their own treatment plans. In addition to this, and acting as the direct point of contact for a patient’s medical care, they can also make referrals to consultants.

Family nursing care is more about caring for the whole family unit than patient-centered care. One unique aspect of family nursing is that it takes a team approach to healthcare. A family nurse practitioner can perform several duties, some of which cut across those of a physician. As much as they are saddled with the care of family units and are expected to work in homes, they can also work in hospitals, clinics, schools, private offices and hospice centers to care for their patients.

With time, family nurses can become the primary healthcare provider for their patients. This means that in addition to working more independently, they have the opportunity to evolve into primary care providers who can do in-office procedures as required or do it for a longer period in situations of chronic or acute issues.

For example, in a diabetic patient’s treatment, the difference between a family nurse practitioner and a registered nurse is evident. The registered nurse assesses the patient’s health, and provides updates to the doctor, who then prescribes a treatment plan. However, nurse practitioners can make a difference in mental health awareness by addressing psychological wellbeing during the treatment process.

However, suppose that this same patient visits a family nurse practitioner. In that case, the family nurse can perform every aspect of the evaluation process and may not need the input of the medical doctor. Family nurse practitioners are trained and equipped to act as medical doctors when required.

The scope of practice for family nurse practitioners

The family nurse practice covers a wide scope, making it a fascinating career choice for anyone who takes the path. As a family nurse, you are trained to carry out different procedures, from staples, nerve blocks, sutures and staples to drainage and incision for wound care. You can also get further training for advanced procedures such as carrying out pap smears and placing intrauterine devices for family planning methods if you are a family nurse specializing in women’s health.

Family nurse practitioners are also saddled with patient education and guidance. You not only help patients prevent diseases and screen and evaluate them for treatments, but you can also go as far as instructing them carefully on how to approach the condition or situation they are facing. As a nurse, teaching and guidance give you a chance to connect with your patients and find the best ways to implement lifestyle and behavioral changes that may be required for overall health.

A major highlight of a family nurse practitioner’s career journey is that they are sometimes required to co-manage patients alongside other medical professionals. You are able to collaborate with physicians, scientists and anyone else involved in the treatment cycle, all to ensure that your patient’s treatment process is optimized for the best possible results.

The family nurse practitioner role will typically require further education and training as it is an advanced practice area. This will also allow you to meet more people and rub minds. The period of your advanced education also gives you more time to learn how to work autonomously and prepares you for the challenge ahead.

So, if you want a career that allows you to build long-term relationships with your patients, then family nursing practice may be right for you. Family nurses have the opportunity to see their patients’ health improve with time, which can be a very satisfying experience to have as a professional and as an individual.

Mental health support in family nursing practice

Family nurse practitioners are distinguished from other healthcare professionals because of the comprehensive perspective on wellbeing that they bring in for their patients. Alongside tending to patients’ physical health, the invaluable contribution of family nursing practitioners to psycho-social and mental health care cannot be overstated. As primary care providers, they play an integral role in screening, making diagnoses and collaborating on holistic management plans for patients’ mental wellbeing.

Family nurse practitioners are usually the first point of contact for family members. As a result, they serve as the first healthcare providers to recognize the mental health needs of their patients. Family nursing practitioners are able to diagnose and treat general mental illnesses, provide preventive measures for mental health challenges, look out for disorders, and work together with other healthcare professionals to create the best care plan for patients. When family nurse practitioners are allowed to handle mental health care, it creates a holistic wellness opportunity for the individual, families and communities involved.

The scope of the family nurse practitioner’s practice highlights their role in supporting mental health. As highlighted earlier, patients will typically display their mental health challenges before their family nurses because they happen to be their first-point healthcare providers; and because they have been trained to diagnose and handle different categories of issues, they will be able to provide the necessary care or refer patients to further specialists in cases of unclear or complex diagnoses.

To be able to function effectively, family nurses need to ensure that they understand the scope of practice within their state and work toward reaching it. This scope of practice will inform how patient families are treated, the prescription limits to follow, the need for further referrals, and everything else involved in the practice. However, if for any reason a family nurse is treating a patient and recognizes that the patient may have mental health issues beyond their scope of practice, then it’s recommended that a referral is made to a specialist.

Making referrals to other medical professionals requires collaboration. However, it’s important to point out that collaboration among family nurse practitioners is wider than this. Psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers are just some of the mental health professionals that family nurses can collaborate with to ensure a comprehensive approach to their patient treatments. It’s important to keep in mind that as much as they can make all necessary diagnoses and prescribe medication for less complex mental illnesses, a collaborative approach may be required to actualize patient goals. A collaborative and holistic approach to patient care, particularly mental health care, can make handling more complex mental health issues easier.

Preventive mental health care in family nursing practice

Family nurses are all-round practitioners. They not only diagnose and treat their patients’ common mental illnesses, but also work with other healthcare providers to develop holistic measures to treat complex disorders. It’s not uncommon to see a family nurse recommend a lifestyle or dietary change to help a patient get to a better mental wellness stage.

Family nurses provide preventive mental health measures for patients to take, including keeping a proper nutrition plan, concentrating on the right physical activities, community participation, stress reduction and intentional lifelong learning. When patients already have mental health issues, family nurses may prescribe a wide range of medications such as antidepressants, anxiety medications, and those for ADHD and ADD.

One important thing to note is that the family nurse practitioner’s role in mental health will depend on the existing legislation in the state in question. Legislations also tend to change with time, and it’s important to stay informed and ensure that you are aligned with the guidelines and best practices for your profession.

A critical aspect of the work that family nurses do is screening patients. This screening process will involve the use of questionnaires to address supposed mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or ADHD. These questionnaires will contain inquiries about feelings, behaviors, moods, stressors and life changes as they come. You can identify the risk factors and foundational causes of these mental disorders from your evaluations.

How family nurse practitioners can help patients handle mental health issues

Some of the common mental health concerns that family nurse practitioners handle are anxiety, substance abuse and depression. However, unlike psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners and other mental health professionals, family nurses are not entirely regarded as mental health care providers. However, they can develop care plans and prescribe medications for their patients as necessary.

As family nurses are not wholly mental health practitioners, they need to make use of evidence-based treatments, psychotherapy and psychopharmacological therapy to ensure that necessary precautions are taken to provide the best care possible for the mind and body.

Ultimately, you need to ensure that wherever it is that you find yourself, you are working within your scope of practice.

Collaboration with other medical professionals

This is an important aspect of the family nursing practice. As mentioned, family nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat the less complex mental health issues that occur in their patients, such as depression and anxiety disorders. However, the average family nurse is not trained to handle the major aspects of psychotherapy unless they take further training. So, in order to be able to handle complex mental health challenges, it’s important to collaborate with other healthcare professionals with greater insights on these matters.

Collaboration is integral to the family nursing practitioner’s work, and it is particularly important for the promotion of mental health. So, in situations where you may have to refer a patient who is dealing with severe anxiety to a clinical mental health counselor, or you may need to connect a patient with complex mental health issues to a psychiatrist, you must have a network of other medical professionals with whom you can connect.

You need a robust network of healthcare professionals who you can reach out to when necessary, and also healthcare providers such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical mental care providers, licensed social workers and psychiatric nurses.

Another reason why collaboration is important is because it can lead to the maintenance of patients’ overall health. For instance, if you refer your patient to a specialist for a particular physical condition, you may find it valuable to bring up the patient’s physical and mental health with that other health provider with the aim of ensuring that the most comprehensive and holistic care possible is provided. In situations where a medication regimen does not work for your patient’s mental health issue, bringing in another healthcare professional to discuss it may also prove to be extremely productive.

Your network of healthcare professionals can make your approach to care for your patients much easier to navigate and provide you with the insight you need to deal with your patients.


If you are interested in finding out more about the family nurse practitioner’s role in mental health, TWU provide informational articles and resources to compliment the online MSN-FNP program they offer. Not only will these resources offer insight into the profession, but the course will help prepare you for the next stage of your career.

Family nursing practitioners provide all-inclusive care to patients of different kinds, from infancy through adulthood. As a result, it’s very common for the treatment of mental health disorders to come within the scope of their practice. It’s common for registered nurses to become family nurse practitioners, and as a result, they need to prepare themselves to assist their patients with the different levels of mental health disorders, even if it’s out of the scope of the non-complex mental disorders that they deal with.

Family nurses typically treat symptoms of diseases without judgment or bias and can be a great choice in handling mental health issues. They are able to create a holistic approach in addressing other external factors that may result in mental health challenges, such as daily stressors, poor nutrition and general lifestyle.

They also get to work across a variety of settings to assess patients, make analyses and introduce treatment plans. Suppose that you are a nurse pursuing advanced education. In that case, you will need to familiarize yourself with the significance of holistic care when addressing mental health disorders and other conditions. You must also have a good understanding of the obstacles that hinder your patients from accessing the mental health treatment they require.

The era of concealing mental illness is over. Engaging in open discussions and providing treatment for mental health issues are pivotal in assisting individuals to lead improved, happier and healthier lives. Family nurse practitioners are key to a patient’s journey toward improved health.


I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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