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Keywords:

  • severe or enduring mental illness;
  • service contact;
  • community mental health nursing;
  • psychosis;
  • primary health care;
  • general practice;
  • primary care groups

Characteristics of severely mentally ill patients in and out of contact with community mental health services

Community mental health nurses have been criticized for failing to prioritize work with people with a severe or enduring mental illness, many of whom have no contact with specialist mental health services and rely entirely on their general practitioner and primary care team. It is important to ensure that those in contact with specialist services actually need this level of input but, conversely, that those in contact with only primary care receive a service that is equipped to meet their needs. This study examines the differences between these two groups of patients. A sample of 253 community-based patients with a severe or enduring mental illness was divided into those with mental health service contact and those without. Differences in the demographic characteristics of the two groups were assessed and further, more detailed, comparisons were made with a sub-sample of 49 individuals randomly drawn from this larger sample. Instruments adopted for these purposes comprised the Camberwell Assessment of Need and the Life Fulfilment Scale. It was found that patients with a psychotic disorder were more likely than those with neurosis to be in contact with mental health services and patients with schizophrenia were significantly more likely to be on the active caseload of a community mental health nurse than those from all other diagnostic groups. However, patients’ levels of need, unmet need and quality of life did not differ in relation to their service contact. Whilst the study provides limited evidence that community mental health nurses are targeting people with the most serious disorders, questions remain about the large proportion not receiving specialist care. Because primary care plays a significant role in the care of severely mentally ill people living in the community, the further mental health training of general practitioners and practice nurses is becoming increasingly important.