Experiences of Physical Healthcare

People who present to emergency departments (ED) with a mental health related concern often feel that they are treated differently to those attending with a physical injury or illness.

Some people we spoke to reported feeling that they are treated with more empathy by staff when they have presented to the ED with a physical health related concern. They described receiving excellent physical health care, in contrast to their experiences of mental health care from emergency departments. People also described worrying that their mental health related concerns would not receive the same level of attention because of the hidden nature of distressing experiences. It can help a person to feel welcome within the ED when staff show equal concern for both mental health and physical health problems.

People explained how they can feel unwelcome within EDs because of their history of mental health presentations. The way questions about the nature of the concern that brought a person into the ED can either help them to feel supported or may be perceived as insensitive or uncaring. Some people described the negative impacts of staff making incorrect assumptions about why they are presenting with a physical injury or illness based on previous presentations. When a person feels judged or blamed for what is happening to them, they may choose to avoid the ED in the future when experiencing a mental health related concern.

Key points

  • People who present to the ED would like to feel welcome regardless of whether they are seeking support for a mental health or a physical health concern.
  • A person may feel judged or blamed when staff make assumptions about why they might they are presenting to the ED based on prior mental health presentations or case notes.
  • A person’s experience of care within the ED can shape future help seeking behaviours.
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